News & ToursJuly 29, 2008

Sirak: Wie's Absence Rankles LPGA Community

SUNNINGDALE, England -- One of the big stories bouncing around jolly old England this week is that more than 1,400 pubs closed in Britain last year, six times the nmber that closed for business the previous year. Of course, the pub owners will get a boost this week from the contingent of LPGA caddies in town for the Ricoh Women's British Open. The other story rattling around Sunningdale Golf Club involved a player not in the field: Michelle Wie.

Wie, who had not qualified to play the Women's British, had signed up to play a qualifier for the tournament, but then withdrew, in part because her handlers found out the money won here does not count toward her effort to earn a 2009 LPGA card off the tour's money list. Another reason for Wie's withdrawal from the qualifier popped up last week when Team Wie announced she would be playing in the PGA Tour event in Reno this week.

The reaction of LPGA players to the news Wie was playing against the men the week of a women's major -- and thus potentially stealing some of the coverage from the Ricoh event -- was, at its most gentle, incredulous and, at it's extreme, furious. It's another example, said player after player, of the Wie camp's lack of respect for the LPGA and the women's game in general.

"I feel kind of sad for her," Helen Alfredsson, winner of the Evian Masters last week, said Tuesday at Sunningdale. "I feel sad for the guidance she is getting in the wrong direction. The exhibition time for her is over. If she wants to be a golfer, I think she should concentrate on the women's tour and learn how to win."

"We have a major this week," said Annika Sorenstam, who is playing in her last major before retirement. "If you can't qualify for it, you shouldn't be playing with the men."

Interestingly, Wie's coach won't be with her in Reno this week. David Leadbetter was at Royal Birkdale for the men's Open Championship and then vacationed in southeast England for a week with his family. He'll stay around until the Women's British gets underway, working with one of his newest pupils, Suzann Pettersen.

For at least two years now Leadbetter has been outspoken about his feeling that playing against the men is not the right thing for Wie to do until she gets stronger and more confident. While he did not say so, his decision to be with Pettersen this week and not in Reno is an indication by Leadbetter of how he feels about her jumping back into the fray against the men just as she was getting her swing -- and more importantly her confidence -- back.

There is also considerable emotion among the players here about the reaction to Wie's disqualification at the State Farm Classic two weeks ago for not signing her scorecard. "People are blaming the rule, people are blaming the LPGA, people are blaming the volunteer, people are blaming everyone except the person at fault  -- the player," said one veteran tour player, venting off to the side of the practice green at Sunningdale as a rain squall Tuesday afternoon sent folks scurrying for cover.

Let's get back to those pubs, because one of the wonderful things about British life is how the local waterhole serves as a community gathering spot that draws a neighborhood together. Two factors are being blamed: Banning smoking in pubs, and more people buying beer in supermarkets and drinking it at home in front of the "telly" rather than with friends in a pub. Sad, really.

Here's another number that grabbed my attention: Britons send more than 1.4 billion text messages every week, according to a report by the Mobile Data Associations. That's 23 for every man, woman and child in the country. That number will also go up this week, since text messaging is the communication method of choice between players and caddies -- and sometimes between players and reporters.

Got to go. Just received a text from a player and her caddie wanting to know if I want to join them in keeping the pubs of Britain in business. More later.

-- Ron Sirak

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