124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

A new Wie? Here's the first test

August 27, 2009

There are no teammates in the real world of golf, no vociferous jingoism on which to lean for support. It is a cutthroat business where even your friends are foes who are determined to bludgeon you with the business end of a lob wedge.

It is back to this world that Michelle Wie returns on Friday, at the Safeway Classic at Pumpkin Ridge, outside Portland. Questions have usually accompanied Wie to the first tee, as will again be the case on Friday: Was the Solheim Cup indeed a turning point in her career?

The potential for an affirmative answer has turned this otherwise obscure event into a showcase one that is fraught as well with hurdles. It's not the big stage that is among the obstacles for Wie, who has frequently performed on one, often admirably. The obstacles are those with whom she has to share the stage, and they're not inclined to cede the spotlight.

In her first two rounds post-Solheim Cup euphoria, Wie is paired with Cristie Kerr and Lorena Ochoa, one the leading money winner on the LPGA this year, the other widely recognized as the best player in women's golf.

Last week, Kerr was a teammate (together they earned a point in Saturday foursomes). This week, in defense of her Safeway Classic victory, Kerr will eagerly attempt to keep Wie's potential bottled. Ochoa, meanwhile, will set out to remind everyone who really reigns over women's golf.

Wie, incidentally, needn't win this week to validate what some (including Golf World, in a cover headline) say was a breakout performance in the Solheim Cup. But a strong performance alongside two of the best players in the world, in the wake of a brilliant Solheim Cup, would move her to the brink of the stardom so long expected of her.

-- John Strege