The journey, they say, is more delicious than the destination, and that's probably because it is the personal part of the adventure. Dreams can be shared, but the path to those dreams is a private one determined not so much by a pre-existing road map as by the heart and soul of the individual engaged in the trek. There is a curious coincidence in the fact that Michelle Wie made her first cut in a men's professional tournament the same week that Earl Woods died. Earl and B.J. Wie, Michelle's father, mapped entirely different paths to golf greatness for their children. Both might turn out to be right.
The book is certainly closed on Earl Woods. If Tiger Woods never wins another golf tournament, he already, at the age of 30 and with 48 wins and 10 professional majors to his credit, has to be considered one of the greatest ever to play the game. And it has been in large part because of the undeniable success of the Woods path -- establish domination at each level before moving on to the next -- that the road wandered by Wie has been criticized. All along, B.J. has been saying that his daughter is not Tiger and that there is more than one way to get where you are going. He garnered some potent ammunition for his argument at the SK Telecom Open in South Korea, where Michelle finished T-35.
Simply put, Earl's strategy was to set a reachable bar, have Tiger clear it, then move the bar to the next reachable level. His plan was to develop a mindset of domination in his son through a series of successes. B.J. Wie's vision is to set the bar high and have Michelle run and jump at it continually, improving with each effort, until she finally clears it.
Earl believed in getting where you are going a step at a time; B.J. sees progress as a great leap forward. All along, what B.J. Wie has asked for is the luxury of time and the patience to allow his method a fair chance to prove itself. It could be that that opportunity will be granted much more readily now.
Those who pointed to the success of the Woods method noted some significant failures by Michelle Wie under pressure -- the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur, the final round of the 2005 U.S. Women's Open and the final few holes of the second round of last year's John Deere Classic among them -- by way of saying she had not learned how to win by playing an extensive junior schedule as Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel had. And while Wie has not yet established herself as someone who knows how to close the deal, she is progressing at an impressive rate.
Now, while the SK Telecom Open is not a PGA Tour-caliber tournament, it is a tournament played on a course set up for professional men, and Wie is a 16-year-old girl. That she shot 70-69 in the first two rounds to make the cut by five strokes cannot be dismissed lightly. That the third round was washed out by rain and the final 18 of what became a 54-hole event was played under grim conditions was bad luck for Wie. That she closed with a 74 and finished at five-under-par 213 -- 12 strokes off the lead -- is impressive, although the no-name nature of the competition makes it difficult to determine exactly how impressive. After all, Se Ri Pak did finish T-10 in a Korean men's event in 2003.
This much, however, can't be argued: A 16-year-old girl made the cut in a men's professional tournament. Say those words again. The fact that Wie was 0-for-7 in her previous tries at making the cut against the men looks a lot less like failure right now and a lot more like stepping stones to a higher level of play. Next up for Wie will be a local qualifier in her native Hawaii for the men's U.S. Open. Later this summer she will try two more PGA Tour events -- the John Deere and the 84 Lumber Classic. Making the cut in either of those would be much more momentous. The only woman to make a cut in a PGA Tour event was Babe Zaharias in 1945.
Wie has played two LPGA tournaments so far this year, finishing third in the Fields Open and failing by one up-and-down on the final hole of making a playoff in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She has six more tournaments on the women's tour -- the McDonald's LPGA Championship, U.S. Women's Open, HSBC Match Play, Evian Masters, Weetabix Women's British Open and Samsung World Championship. It's likely a lot more about her development will be learned in those events. That's where we will find out if she knows how to win.
Easily, the most impressive round Wie has played in a professional event was her closing 70 in the Kraft Nabisco. It was her lowest score in a final round in a pro event in which she was in contention. And the fact that she made a couple of bogeys midway through the back nine, then birdied No. 16 and was on the fringe of No. 18 with a chance for the playoff displayed what appears to be a developing courage under pressure.
Interestingly, Earl Woods was never one of those to publicly criticize the path chosen by B.J. Wie for Michelle. Even if in his heart Earl might have had doubts about the Wie path, he was also smart enough to know that the golf landscape is traversed by many different roads. Yes, we know the Woods way worked. The record book tells us so. But it might very well be that the Wie way will prove just as successful. There is more reason to feel that way after her success in South Korea, and there is plenty more time for this story to play out.
Two special talents might get to the same place by following very different paths. That, after all, is what makes the journey special.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.