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Wie's exemption just isn't fair

The next big thing in golf will be Michelle Wie. And we are talking not just women's golf, we are talking all of golf.

When she turns professional she will bring a buzz with her that will make the "Tigermania" of 1997 look like a second-tier frat party.

There is no doubt she will bring golf more attention, more fans and, as
with Woods, more talented players by encouraging exceptional young
athletes to pursue a career in the game.

All that said, there is absolutely no way Michelle Wie should be getting a special exemption
into the U.S. Women's Open. Just because she is a special young player
is no reason she should get special treatment. Furthermore, it is not a
reason the rules and spirit of the game should be violated.

The idea behind special exemptions in the USGA Open championships for both the men and women has always been to reward good players who have been good for the game over a period of years. They are for Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez.

This year, Dottie Pepper and Betsy King have been given special exemptions into the Women's Open. Check out their résumé: Pepper has 17 LPGA victories, including two major championships. King has won 34 times on the LPGA, including the 1989 U.S. Open. These are the kind of players special exemptions should be for, not a 14-year-old who has one measly significant victory -- the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links - to her credit.

The USGA says Wie is the first amateur ever to get an exemption into the U.S. Women's Open. How about giving that honor to Carol Semple Thompson, who has played in about a billion USGA events? Only four amateurs have received exemptions into any U.S. Open. Jay Sigel -- who had a glitzy competitive résumé -- got one into the 1980 U.S. Open and Aaron Baddeley got one into the 2000 U.S. Open after winning the Australian Open earlier that year. Vinny Giles, another career amateur with an impressive record, got an exemption into the 2003 U.S. Senior Open.

Now, let's get to the real issue here: Why did a 14-year-old get a special exemption into the U.S. Women's Open?

The USGA says Wie's exemption was based on her performance, that if she had been a professional last year she would have finished 28th on the LPGA money list. The top 35 on the LPGA money list get into the Open. So what the USGA is saying is that they are giving Wie a reward that goes to professionals without her having to take the risk of turning professional. What's the fairness there? Here's why Wie got a special exemption: It will help TV ratings, give a boost to ticket sales -- which are not going to be strong Fourth of July weekend in South Hadley, Mass. -- and it will guarantee Wie's presence in other USGA events.

Simply put, now she owes them one.

Wie is going to play in the USGA's Curtis Cup this year June 12-13 in England, and she is going to defend her women's Public Links title June 24-27 (the week before the U.S. Women's Open), as well as play the U.S. Women's Amateur Aug. 9-15. By exempting Wie from U.S. Women's Open qualifying play she gets some time off during a hectic summer schedule. Who benefits from this? Wie, and the USGA by guaranteeing her presence in four of their events this year.

But the conspiracy runs even deeper. The special exemption given to Wie gets her a shot of getting into a fifth USGA event. B.J. Wie, Michelle's father, told The Associated Press that his daughter will now try to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Public Links, a men's event run by the USGA. The Public Links qualifier is the same week Wie would have had to qualify for the Women's Open if she had not been give a special exemption. Wie's long-stated goal is to become the first woman to play in the Masters. The men's Public Links winner gets an invitation to Augusta National.

The issue here is fairness. I would rather see Amy Alcott get a special exemption into the U.S. Women's Open than Michelle Wie. Also, I would have no trouble if they just operated above board and changed the rules. If the USGA wants the winner of the women's Public Links in the U.S. Women's Open then give all winners of that event an exemption into the Open the next year. But if the USGA does that, it better also give an exemption to the men's winner of the Public Links into the U.S. Open.

And talk about fairness, how is it fair to the other young, talented members of the U.S. Curtis Cup team that Wie gets into the Women's Open and they do not? If I were Paula Creamer or Jane Park or Liz Janangelo I'd be pretty steamed about now. If the USGA is going to go down that road then just give the entire Curtis Cup team exemptions into the Open.

The USGA presents itself as the defender of the game, the body that sets equipment standards, spells out the rules and monitors the line between professional and amateur status. One of the rules of amateur conduct is that you cannot benefit from special privileges generated by your abilities as a golfer. That would be capitalizing on your talent.

But isn't that exactly what is happening here? Hasn't a player who will sell tickets and help TV ratings at five USGA events been given special treatment because of her value to the bottom line?

Michelle Wie is a special talent and could very well be a special player someday, but that is no reason to give her special treatment. The issue is fairness.

Let's reward achievement, not potential.

Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine

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