It was at The Grove course in Hertfordshire just outside London in the final round WGC American Express Championship in 2006 when I saw Tiger Woods up close and personal from the privileged position inside the ropes for the first time since he came to Australia a decade earlier as quite agreeable 21-year-old with a massive future ahead of him for our open championship at The Australian Golf Club.
What I saw that day in England as he went head-to-head with Adam Scott in the final grouping – with Woods winning the tournament by eight shots – appalled me. His cursing with foul language that would have made a sheep shearer blush, his spitting and his club throwing were not the stuff of a world No 1 golfer, and idol and role model to so many kids.
That the PGA Tour never suspended him – though it’s rumored he rivals John Daly for the title of the most fined player on its books – confounds belief, but Woods was the cash cow for the tour with increased corporate sponsorship and TV rights for tournaments that made the PGA Tour a millionaires paradise.
Jack Nicklaus was the greatest before Woods came along, and still is, as Woods remains four majors shy of Nicklaus’ record 18, a dream that is becoming more quixotic with each passing year.
The great Golden Bear became very conscious of the image he portrayed at a very early age. Like so many golfers years ago when the health ramifications of smoking were not as clearly evident – and persuasive with plain packaging and their powerful images of health deterioration – smoking was commonplace.
Nicklaus was a heavy smoker on course. He was 22 when he won the 1962 US Open Championship at Oakmont in a playoff with Arnold Palmer and a few months later he saw a film of the playoff – and his smoking.
“It was the worst example for youth I can imagine. It was the last time I ever smoked a cigarette on the golf course,” Nicklaus said some years down the track.
The pity is, Woods has never appeared to comprehend that all those young people who idolise him may copy his on-course behavior.
So, from that day at The Grove I became a Tiger-watcher and while admiring his supreme golfing skills I have never come to terms with the ugly image he portrays on course. Whatever happened to that engaging smile he had when he first came our way.
Those who might have read my scribbling for The Sydney Morning Herald for 18 years before we parted company late last year would know of my intense dislike of Woods, and it wasn’t just because of the sex scandal that so enveloped him in late 2009. I wrote an article in March 2010 that was headlined: Why I am disgusted with Tiger Woods. It was after his mea culpa for his sexual exploits in a no questions asked press conference.
His most telling comment in that statement were: “I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to … I felt entitled.”
All that said, or written as the case may be, let’s get to Michelle Wie. During the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Canberra a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article that appeared on the ALPG website entitled: Wie: A phenomenal talent stifled.
It was my observations of the over-bearing presence of her father B.J. Wie and mother Bo, a former South Korean amateur champion, as she went through her warm-up routine on the practice range and practice putting green before the second round and the control her parents seemed to impose upon her.
I quoted Warren Sevil, the CEO of the ALPG and a wise man when it comes to matters women’s golf, and he spoke from the heart about the enigma that is Michelle Wie. As an early teenager she looked to have the talent to take the world of women’s golf by the scruff of the neck yet now, as a 23-year-old, she has just two LPGA victories to her credit.
She was to be the Tiger Woods of the women’s circuit. The parallels between Woods and Wie as youngsters are not dissimilar. Youthful prodigies, both groomed from an early age, Woods by his father Earl and Wie by her parents. Both had imposing junior golf records.
In 1996 when Woods turned professional, he reportedly signed a five-year contract with Nike worth $40 million (and that’s risen through the years with Nike remaining with Woods post the sex scandal where other sponsors took their leave from him); when Wie turned professional, at the age of 15 in late 2005, she signed a Nike deal reportedly worth between $4 million and $5 million a year.
On the weekend at Royal Canberra when 15-year-old New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko was very much in contention, the thought occurred that should Ko win she would have the same number of LPGA wins as Wie, as Ko won last year’s Canadian Open. Ko didn’t, but what a future lies ahead of her.
Sevil thought the same of Wie when she was the same age as Ko – and even when she was younger.
Here’s Sevil quotes from that ALPG article: “She (Wie) has been a massive disappointment … let the girl go and let her natural talent shine through. Cut the strings and just let her out there and let her be the natural Michelle Wie … my fear is that it’s just too late … it’s a shame. She has been smothered into oblivion.”
I’d hoped the article would be entirely sympathetic to Wie, but condemning of her parents.
I genuinely felt sorry for a young lady who, at her age, should be making her own way in the world of golf with the passive support of her parents rather than the seeming active control over every she does.
Michelle Wie I like; Tiger Woods? Well, that’s another matter.
The article in these days of cyberspace – and not newsprint – spread. I’m told it received the most hits ever for a single story on the ALPG website. Many comments were posted, the majority of which were entirely sympathetic of Wie and negative of the role her parents play.
I received a personal email from the Kraig Kann, the Chief Communications Officer for the LPGA since September 2011 who previously worked for The Golf Channel for 17 years as a commentator, reporter and host. With his permission, this is what he wrote:
“I covered Michelle, interviewed Michelle and led conversation about Michelle… and her family/management group. I’ve heard the positive and listened to some of the negative about a promising young lady with so much talent and such a bright career in front of her.
“These days I have a much different role and also a much more comprehensive look at Michelle the player, and Michelle the person. So I thought I’d share.
“Everyone is entitled to opinion and certainly a probe into her statistics or playing record over the last few years doesn’t reflect the player everyone expected – which to me is more relevant. Easily Michelle could opt out of the spotlight at this point to focus only on her game and work to build respect about her results. Courageously, she’s chosen a different path that includes participation and leadership and, to that, I must say I’m impressed."
“In starting my new LPGA role, my first goal was to create player ‘buy-in’ to new ideas and a different approach to growing the tour. That included a new LPGA Communications Committee that includes a total of eight who share tour experience and insight, help create ideas, and help to promote our efforts to build.
“As you stated, Michelle is a Stanford University graduate with a communications degree – and a natural to be in this role. She could have declined my invite, but didn’t. In fact, she has been the most generous with her time and giving with ideas.
“She’s returned emails and phone calls and she’s also sent countless emails showing enthusiasm for the tour, and supporting our initiatives. She has been to every scheduled ‘team dinner’ and has volunteered her time to do unique things with the media in hopes that the tour would gain extra publicity. In one instance, Michelle enthusiastically showed a different side by hosting a media news conference and asking the questions instead of being on the receiving end of questions. It was a “hit”.
“Ironically, just today, I received an email from her – yes, she’s in Thailand (where she finished 46th in the LPGA event) – with an idea about players creating a new video that has the potential to ‘go viral’,”Kann wrote.
Michelle Wie is an outstanding young lady.
She is articulate and has the good looks (sorry if that crosses the boundary of political correctness) to become the beacon of women’s golf if only her results could match the potential she showed as an early teenager.
She is popular with her peers but one wonders just how much damage has been done by thrusting her into men’s tournaments (with massive appearance money attached) simply because she was the prodigy.
Her parents – B.J. and Bo – must surely in their moments of reflection ponder where it all went wrong.
Just the other day, Macquarie University in Sydney released a study that showed perfectionist parenting produces poorer performance. It showed children performed better when their parents were relaxed and hands-off. When parents were interventionist, children became more perfectionist themselves but performed worse.
Let’s hope it’s not too late for Michelle Wie – or her parents.
Peter Stone is an award-winning golf journalist and former Sydney Morning Herald golf correspondent and columnist for Golf Australia. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Golf Australia.