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We were talking about Michelle Wie, who was The Next Big Thing in women’s golf at the age of 10, and now, at 18, is a has-been making $19 million a year (according to Forbes).

Golf Digest reports that in her first year as a pro, Wie raked in $3.5 million from Korean corporations plus $3.5 million in appearance fees from Asian Tour, European Tour, and Japan Tour events. Add $12.5 million from Sony, Nike, and others. This, for zero tournaments won. At age 16.

To refresh, Wie turned pro a few days before her 16th birthday. She is not a member of the LPGA, which is a business decision. Although she can’t accept appearance fees from LPGA or PGA tournaments, she can from events on the Asian Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, and Canadian Tour. By staying a nonmember, Wie is entitled to play in no more than six LPGA tournaments per year and must get a sponsor’s exemption for those. Wie’s participation makes the LPGA millions, so exemptions have not been a problem and, as nonmember bonus, Wie isn’t required to play in a minimum number of LPGA events and doesn’t have to petition the mother ship for permission to play in conflicting tournaments.

When did things go wrong? She played 11 tournaments in 2005, finished in the top five in four of them. Not bad. She entered 14 tournaments in 2006 and finished in the top five in six of them. The girl can play. Things went to hell in 2007: missed cut, withdrew, 84th place, withdrew, 69th place, missed cut, missed cut, missed cut, and finished 19th out of 20 players.

Wie has never won a tournament as a pro — against men or women — in this country or abroad. She dragged her phenomenally bad golf game into 2008, tying for last place at the Fields Open in Hawaii (held in February). Her next tournament is the Safeway International, March 27–30 (televised on the Golf Channel), at Superstition Mountain, Arizona. If you like train wrecks, tune in.

It was the 2007 “Ginn Tribute hosted by ANNIKA” that brought things to a head. Wie shoots 14 over par in the first 16 holes, including a jaw-dropping quintuple-bogey. Turns out the LPGA has the “Rule of 88,” which sounds like a politburo shakeup in China, but is actually a rule stating that if a non-LPGA member shoots 88, she may not play in LPGA cosponsored events for the rest of the year.

So, on the 16th hole of her first day, Wie is 14 strokes over par. The course is par 72. If she pars the last two holes, she finishes with a 86. But, considering how it’s been going, an 88 or above seems more likely.

Eric Adelson of ESPN.com picks it up from here: “…her parents began consulting with each other and William Morris manager Greg Nared, who had a cell phone to his ear. Chris Higgs, the LPGA chief operations officer, soon drove up in a cart and spoke with Nared. Higgs had been talking about the Rule of 88 in the media tent, but he said he came out to Wie’s rope line for, ‘no particular reason.’

“…Nared spoke to [Wie] briefly before she announced, ‘We’re not going to play anymore’… glumly climbed into a cart, and rode to the clubhouse, where she met behind closed doors with her parents and Nared. The four spoke for 15 minutes, then an ice pack was brought in for Wie’s left wrist. Wie then walked to the media tent without the ice pack.”

The LPGA has a rule that their players cannot practice on a course within seven days of playing in a tournament on that course. As a final burn, Wie was hitting balls at Bulle Rock Golf Club, the site of McDonald’s LPGA Championship, 48 hours after withdrawing from Annika’s tournament. She practiced at Bulle Rock on Saturday, played the pro-am on Monday, had another practice day on Tuesday, and teed off in the LPGA Championship tournament on Thursday. She made the cut, then finished last, 35 strokes behind the winner, Suzann Pettersen.

Michelle has injured her wrists, to what extent is unclear. But, that has not stopped her controlling parents (Byung-Wook, aka “B.J.,” and Hyun-Kyong, aka “Bo”) from entering her in far too many events. One wonders how many tournaments Michelle has to finish last in before her parents realize she needs a break. B.J. and Bo argue, berate officials, and illegally coach Wie while she’s playing. The best line about this situation is from David Feherty of CBS Sports, “She could be adopted by Britney Spears and be better off.”

Good news: Michelle is attending Stanford, far from her home in Hawaii. Bad news: Bo and B.J. have rented a house in Palo Alto.

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Comments

jmr1944 March 9, 2008 @ 11:04 p.m.

$19 million worth of heartbreak and confusion. As a plot, it would strain credulity; it would be pushed aside even by the Hollywood preteens who greenlight the most pubescent of our artforms.

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