July 28, 2008

Two Friends, Two Paths

For Parker McLachlin and Michelle Wie, Reno week had different results

McLachlin shot a course-record-tying 62 in the second round and held on to win his first PGA Tour title.

McLachlin shot a course-record-tying 62 in the second round and held on to win his first PGA Tour title.

Two friends and Hawaiian natives, one a woman playing in a men's event, the other a second-year tour pro who has had more success (but much less publicity) than the other, came together on the same stage at the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open last week, delivering decidedly different outcomes.

One took an early exit—guess who? The other stuck around for the trophy presentation Sunday at the Montreux GCC in Reno, Nev.

Riding out of town on a bogey train of missed cuts in PGA Tour events was Michelle Wie, 18, who left behind a mountain of criticism and a cloudy future, but also a lasting impression on Reno golf fans despite yet another failed attempt to make the cut while playing against the men.

Emerging from the shadows of the Wie spotlight to win for the first time on the PGA Tour was Parker McLachlin, 29, a graduate of the Punahou School (the same Honolulu high school that Wie attended), who left Reno with a mountain of money and a two-year tour exemption.

McLachlin shot a nerve-wracking two-over 74 in the final round, finished at 18-under 270 and won by seven strokes over Brian Davis and John Rollins thanks in large part to a course-record-tying 62 in the second round and a 66 in the third. Those near-perfect rounds gave him a six-shot lead going into the final 18.

"I was fortunate enough to have that big cushion because I needed it," said McLachlin, who lost a seven-stroke lead in the final round of a Nationwide Tour event last season.

What he needed most was his hot ­putter. Without it he would have been doomed. He missed 11 of the first 13 greens Sunday and 13 overall. But he sank six par-saving putts ranging from 5½ to 15 feet, along with a few testy short ones. A 15-footer at No. 12 preserved a four-shot lead.

"When everything else fails, I have 100 percent confidence that I am going to make putts, and today everything else failed and I made putts," said McLachlin, who earned his biggest career paycheck, $540,000.

Two days earlier, Wie and McLachlin exchanged text messages, as they do regularly. Wie told McLachlin, "Great playing" after the 62. McLachlin told Wie, who shot rounds of 73-80, he thought she played well for 27 holes and that one day she's going to make the cut on tour.

"And then I wrote a funny one back to her," he said. "Because I beat her by 18 shots that day, I said, 'Does this mean I have to give you a shot a hole the next time we play?' She thought that was pretty funny."

It was the only thing that made her laugh Friday. Wie's round featured a bogey, double bogey and a quintuple-bogey 9 in her final six holes. Ultimately, she finished nine strokes in arrears of the cut line, even-par 144, in what was one of the year's weakest fields. The good news is she signed her scorecard after each round.

From the start, all eyes were on Wie, who drew the biggest galleries. But while she was embraced by Reno fans, Wie was blasted by her peers and her coach, David Leadbetter, for returning to the men's tour. Leadbetter, in England last week for the Ricoh Women's British Open, told the Telegraph of London that it was "a shock" to him and Wie's agents that Wie had entered another PGA event, her first since early 2007.

"I don't think the family has made the right choice," the swing coach said. "There's definitely more to lose than to gain."

Leadbetter alluded to the progress Wie had made rehabbing her wrist injury to the point she was in contention at the LPGA State Farm Classic three weeks ago. She was one stroke off the lead going into the final day before getting disqualified for failing to sign her scorecard prior to leaving the scoring area. "Just when there's this little light at the end of the tunnel, they have her back playing against the men," Leadbetter said.

"I've put too much time and effort into Michelle to be able to sit by and watch this happening without saying something," Leadbetter continued. "If she doesn't stick to doing what's sensible, we could see one of the greatest potential talents the game has ever known going to waste."

At the same venue, Annika Sorenstam and Helen Alfredsson also leveled criticism, some at Wie's parents.

In Reno, Wie's father, B.J. Wie, refused to respond to the criticism. "No, no thanks," he said. "Thanks for asking."

Michelle Wie refused to second-guess her decision to play in Reno. "A decision is a decision whether it's a wrong decision or a right decision," she said. "I'm not going to second-think my decision. I'm not going to [worry] about what people are going to think about me and other things that I can't control." Apparently, she felt her choice was a good one, calling the week "a great learning experience." She dismissed the fact her string of missed cuts reached eight.

"I think if I played eight in a row and I missed all eight, that would be a different story," she said. "But it's just hard to play one [PGA Tour] event a year.

"I gave it my best today, and I felt like I did a lot of good things and hopefully that outshines the things I made mistakes on."

So what's next? The only certainty is Wie playing in next week's CN Canadian Women's Open, her seventh and final LPGA event of the season. A victory or high finish could earn her enough money for an automatic tour spot next year. If not, will she go to LPGA Qualifying School?

"I haven't really thought about it one way or another," she said.

How about more PGA Tour events, if given the opportunity?

"I haven't really made any decisions right now, but I'm starting to feel more confident about my game," she said. "If the opportunity comes again, I would think about it."

McLachlin, too, has more confidence, and a place to play this week. The win earned him a spot in the PGA Championship, his first major since the 2004 U.S. Open.