The Loop

Love Her or Hate Her, the LPGA Needs Wie

February 11, 2009

KAHUKU, HAWAII -- Here's a headline that had to go right up the nose of many LPGA players. When they opened their copy of the Honolulu Advertiser Wednesday morning, the eve of the season-opening SBS Open, these words glared up at them:

"Wie can fill the void at SBS Open."

The story went on to say that with Lorena Ochoa, No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, not playing, and with defending champion Annika Sorenstam retired, their absences "might not be noticed if Michelle Wie can play as well here as she did four years ago."

That was when a then-15-year-old Wie finished second to Jennifer Rosales.  And while many tour players are irked to see a now-19-year-old rookie playing her first event as an LPGA member get that kind of attention, there are two things even the most cynical can't deny:

Wie is a local and will create a buzz if she does well. And, despite the depth of talent on tour, no one moves the publicity needle like Wie does.

"The fact is, we need her to do well, the tour needs her to do well," said one LPGA veteran, speaking in the lobby of the Turtle Bay Resort. "In this economy, and with the challenges we have ahead, we need her to win," said the player, asking not to be quoted by name. "She angered a lot of us with her attitude toward the LPGA. But now she is a member and we are all in this together."

Many players were miffed by the message Wie sent when she played in PGA Tour events  and said her goal was to qualify for the Masters. It was felt the implication was that she was too good for the LPGA, an attitude amplified by her refusal to ever apply for tour membership until last fall.

But after two years of injury, erratic play and negative headlines, Wie comes into this week's SBS Open needing the LPGA almost as much as they need her. Almost.

While Wie needs to resurrect her reputation, one good performance here and folks will forget she has gone almost six years without a victory. What she has done successfully is become a household name, and that will take the LPGA into many homes it is missing if she can win.

And that exposure will translate into sponsors at a time when the tour really needs them. The truce is unspoken, but it is palpable. Wie is on tour, and the tour needs her.

--Ron Sirak