Love her or hate her, Michelle Wie is one of the biggest stories in golf right now. This week, she will compete in her fourth career Sony Open. In advance of the event, Jason Sobel and Bob Harig traded e-mails about the 17-year-old phenom for this week's edition of Alternate Shot.
Harig: So Jason, another week in Hawaii, huh? Bet it's getting old. Sort of like all the talk about Michelle Wie, who again will be a big story this week as she tries to make the cut for the first time in a PGA Tour event. Then again, maybe she shouldn't be a big story? When does this seemingly futile pursuit tarnish her reputation if it hasn't already?
Sobel: Nice segue. (But no, Hawaii is hardly getting old, I'm sorry to report.) I think her reputation is about as tarnished as could be right now. Last week, Stuart Appleby made headlines by saying he doesn't believe Wie should be competing in PGA Tour events right now. He's hardly alone, though. Arron Oberholser told me the exact same thing, and I saw similar comments from Chad Campbell. If I had to guess, I'd say about 95 percent of the guys on tour are against Wie's competing on their circuit, but it has less to do with sexism or ageism than the simple fact that she's just not good enough.
Harig: What's sad about that is Wie is an amazing talent. As you know, she contended in three of the four LPGA major championships last year. It is hard to believe, thinking back to how long she's been around, that she is just 17. But there is plenty of speculation that she has hurt her game overall by trying to compete with the men -- maybe by trying too hard for more distance. And until she wins against the women, she sets herself up for all kinds of second-guessing.
Sobel: Poor kid. I mean, I know she's a professional and I know she's put herself in this position, but when I was 17 if someone said they didn't like the color of my shirt, I'd become pretty self-conscious about it. She's not one to hide her emotions very easily -- whether on the course or off -- so I wonder how much of an effect this constant criticism will have on both her game and her psyche. It was one thing when players were alluding to the fact that they didn't want her receiving a sponsor's exemption over a full-fledged tour member; it's quite another when they are constantly critiquing her poor form as of late. Can you imagine if tour players ever criticized one of their own for poor performances, saying that guy didn't belong? It would never happen.
Harig: When you put your name on your bag and sign endorsement deals worth multi-millions, anything goes. So while it is difficult to fathom players criticizing one another, she has become fair game. Some of it has to do with the amount of publicity in proportion to performance. Some has to do with the fact that she is taking a spot from someone who they maybe feel is more deserving. And maybe they are tired of talking about. No matter how you feel, she will continue to be of interest.
Sobel: It's funny, every time we write about Michelle Wie on ESPN.com, I receive loads of reader responses. If it's a pro-Wie piece, it's from readers who don't like the approach she is taking; if it contains something negative on her, those who support her become angered. She's really the biggest hot-button issue in golf right now. And what I tell those readers is that, love her or hate her, as long as she elicits emotion and keeps fans talking, then we're going to cover her exploits. That said, you hit the nail on the head: The ratio of publicity to performance is often inadequate for Wie, but those are the reasons why it is that way.
Harig: And that is why tournament directors and sponsors will continue to offer Wie exemptions: She sells. And let's face it, if you were putting up $7-million a year to sponsor an event or charged with getting the most people into the grandstands, you'd consider inviting her, too. I don't blame any tournament for wanting to have her. But I do wonder if she should put the PGA Tour idea on hold for now and put her efforts into women's golf. And don't forget about Stanford.
Sobel: She does have a lot on her plate, which must make it increasingly difficult to excel in any one pursuit. I do agree with you about her receiving sponsor's exemptions. Golf is big business and tournament directors have a job to sell as many tickets as possible, which brings about more sponsors and, in turn, creates more revenue for the event. Frankly, I'm surprised the practice of doling out sponsor's exemptions hasn't devolved into a way to bring other athletes and celebrities into PGA Tour fields. Think a tournament that included, say, Michael Jordan, wouldn't receive a big boost at the box office? Of course it would.
Harig: That's where you have to be careful. You run the risk of making a mockery of a serious sporting event. Several years ago, the Kemper Open invited Mark Rypien, who was then quarterback of the Washington Redskins, on a sponsor's exemption. Rypien was an excellent golfer but had no business playing in a PGA Tour event. To compare those kind of situations is an insult to Wie. No doubt, the tournament organizers have a right to try to sell tickets. But they need to do so with legitimate competitors. I think we all agree that Wie is more than legitimate. She is an incredible player with enormous talent and we forget she is just 17. It simply appears she is not ready to compete with PGA Tour players. No harm in waiting a few years. She's got plenty of time.