June 29, 2007

Time for Wie to end her season

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- Enough, please. Grab the towel and throw it into the ring. It's time to take a standing eight count -- and then quit. The Michelle Wie soap opera took another tearful twist Saturday when the one-time whiz kid withdrew from a tournament for the second time in her last three outings, this time walking off the course at the U.S. Women's Open after driving off No. 1 tee -- her 10th hole of the day. The ice bag taped to her left wrist as she ducked into a car and sped from the Pine Needles Lodge & GC sent the perfect message: Let's put this show on ice for a while.

The early departure came one hole after family physical therapist Leanne Quinn treated Wie's injured wrist as she walked down the 18th fairway. The withdrawal came after she turned her first nine of the second round in 42 strokes, leaving her at 17 over par through 27 holes with no chance of making the cut. She posted an 82 in the first round here and has now not broken par since last July -- a total of 23 rounds, including a pair of withdrawals.

This withdrawal here, which followed a WD at the Ginn Tribute earlier this month when she walked off the course while 14 over par through 16 holes, seems to put the Wie camp in a position where shutting it down for the rest of the year appears to be the wise course of action. She has already pulled out of the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour in two weeks. Next on her schedule is the Evian Masters, an LPGA event in France July 25-28, followed by the Ricoh Women's British Open the next week and the CN Canadian Women's Open two weeks after that.

"I definitely have to re-evaluate," Wie, her voice cracking, said after she hugged Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim goodbye and turned over the scorecard she was keeping. "I don't want this (withdrawing) to happen again." Asked if she would play Evian, she said: "I'm really not sure. I have to make smart choices."

Smart choices by the Wie camp have been in short supply of late. Following her withdrawal at the Ginn Tribute, Wie showed up two days later to practice at Bulle GC, site of the McDonald's tournament. And the persistent question that lingers over the entire situation is this: If her wrist is bothering her so much that she needs treatment from a physical therapist while on the golf course, and if it has caused her to withdraw twice this month, why does she continue to play?

Michelle's answer to that question is that she needs to play to make her wrist stronger. But at this point that seems sort of like someone with a broken leg saying they have to run a marathon as part of the rehabilitation process. And the real concern is that the damage that is now being done is more than physical. How can this sort of public humiliation be good for the confidence of a teenager trying to grow up on a public stage?

The wise choice at this point is for Wie to shut it down for the year. She is only 17 years old and would appear to have a long career ahead of her so why risk damaging her further -- either physically or emotionally. There is also the question of the hole she is digging for herself in both her relationship with LPGA players and with the public. One player, walking to the driving range, looked at the cluster of reporters swarming around Wie and said, "What did she do, quit again?"

And for the second tournament in a row the hundreds of people following Wie seemed to be doing so not so much because they expected to be entertained by sensational shots but rather because they were waiting for what felt like the inevitable crash. North Carolina is, after all, NASCAR country. That's pretty much what they got at Pine Needles. Wie put together 27 pretty painful holes to watch.

For the round and a half she played, Wie hit only six greens -- five of those on par-3 holes -- and missed the fairway off the tee 17 of 21 times. Her last shot of this U.S. Open typified the way she has played in her three LPGA events since returning from the wrist injury that sidelined her for nearly four months after she finished last in the Sony Open on the men's tour in January. The drive sailed well left of the fairway and rattled through the upper braches of the trees that line the first fairway. After she punched the ball back to the fairway she quit.

The next thing of note on Michelle's schedule should be -- should be -- freshman orientation at Stanford in September. Hopefully, the withdrawal at the John Deere means she has put playing against the men on a back burner for a while. And hopefully, yet another withdrawal after yet another dismal performance on the golf course will lead those who are making decisions for Michelle realize that the only sensible solution at this point is to take the rest of the year off from competitive golf and return at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March of 2008.

Wie, who said she woke up feeling discomfort on the wrist Saturday, also said she was experiencing "enough pain to bring tears to my eyes." Whether the pain that produced those tears was physical or emotional does not matter. The remedy for either cause is the same -- rest.

"I definitely don't want to lay off again, but we will have to see," Wie said, leaving hope the wise choice will be made. Bo Wie, Michelle's mother, was nearby when she withdrew, and her father B.J., drove the car as she left Pine Needles, both no doubt feeling the concern any parent would have for their young daughter.

While Michelle may be a special talent, the best thing B.J. and Bo can do at this point is something millions of parents do at the end of every summer. They need to send Michelle off to college, tell her to study hard and let her have the fun that is the byproduct of the university experience. It's time to put away the clubs, crack the books and laugh with friends. Enough of the golf, for now. It's time to let Michelle Wie have a life.

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