Monday, July 11, 2005

Hold on just a minute . . .

The story of Michelle Wie is rather fascinating in many ways. It is almost incomprehensible that a 15-year-old girl can be that good, and will presumably get a lot better. And as long as she's good enough, she ought to play against the best golfers out there, be they male or female.

But there remains the risk of getting carried away, as did Sally Jenkins in an otherwise excellent Washington Post column (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/08/AR2005070802067.html) in which she reasoned that Wie ought to cut back her high-level tournament play and travel, and just be a teenager for a while. Jenkins had this to say about some of the questions Wie raises: "On the one hand, you have to love the fact that she obliterates the women's tees, and raises the thorny and fascinating question of just how long, exactly, we're going to need separate tours for men and women."

Actually, I'm not sure this question has been raised at all. As good as Michelle Wie is, she is not yet as good as Annika Sorenstam, who is without question the best women's golfer right now by a good measure - and who has been unable to make the cut in a men's tournament in two tries. Michelle Wie also has not made a cut. It would seem that when the very elite in women's golf can't make the final two rounds in the men's pro events they enter (which, by the way, have usually not featured Tiger Woods and many of the other biggest names on tour), the idea that we're even close to a need for consolidated tour in the foreseeable future is rather ludicrous.

Instead, the question Michelle Wie poses is a much tougher one, which I don't know the answer to: assuming she progresses to a point where she can beat the best men, which would not surprise me one bit, will it be (a) best for her, and (b) best for women's pro golf, if she plays on the men's tour? She'll no doubt make a very nice living doing so, but whether it's the best thing for her is something she'll have to decide. (I would think it might be best to wait until she's actually won a women's tour event to start thinking about this, though). Part (b) is where it really gets tough. If the best woman, or several women, are off playing with the men, what will this do to the popularity of the women's tour? Will it be viewed as a glorified junior varsity tour, and take a big hit in popularity (and the size of its purses)? And does this mean Michelle Wie shouldn't try to face the greatest challenges possible if she can, but rather should stay on the women's tour out of some obligation to the cause of women's athletics?

Again, I don't know the answer, and am somewhat glad that I don't have to solve that problem. But I do know that while women are closer to competing with men in golf than in most other sports, due the lesser emphasis on raw power and speed, to say that they're close to doing so right now is simply ridiculous.

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