TEED OFF
By Robert Bicknell
 

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May 27, 2007

The times, they are a changin’…

When a high school teenager wins a professional golf tournament, you know either something is slightly off kilter or you might have found the next Tiger Woods.

It used to be that many people thought of golf as a game for old men wearing funny pants. In fact, one of the funniest lines in the movie "Happy Gilmore" was when Adam Sandler exclaims that "to be a good golfer you need goofy pants and a fat ass. My accountant would be a fantastic golfer, he’s got a huge ass."

Not anymore.

Golfers today are young, educated and in great physical condition. They start playing much earlier in life, have access to the best equipment, top instruction and computer analysis.

Tiger Woods stormed onto the scene fresh out of college and set the golf world upside down by winning everything in sight.

Michelle Wie did it as a teenage phenom who set records for sponsorship income without ever winning anything and Paula Creamer became the youngest multi-round winner on the LPGA tour.

Yet they’re all gonna have to move over because 15-year-old Ryo Ishikawa just won the Munsingwear Open event on the Japanese Men’s Tour last Sunday after shooting a 6-under-par 66 in the final round for a one-stroke win over veteran Katsumasa.

Now while it might seem a little premature for Ishikawa to be dreaming of donning a green jacket, ala Tiger, at Augusta National next year, the odds aren’t really that bad because Tiger won his first Masters when he was 21 so Ishikawa has five years to try and break the record.

Did I mention that the Munsingwear Open was Ishikawa’s first professional tournament? No? Silly me.

Right out of the box, he wins the event, obviously too young to know that he isn’t supposed to win such things at an early age. Don’t you hate it when kids don’t follow the established script?

Which could be another advantage…he’s too young and inexperienced to get overly uptight about winning. At 15 years of age, you feel like you’re indestructible and anything is possible. Yes, ok, he was the former national junior high school champion, so he does have some tournament experience behind him, but still it’s gonna be fun to watch him develop over the next few years.

Hopefully, Ishikawa’s success will cause more kids in Asia to dream big.

Let’s contrast that with my usual target of abuse, Michelle Wie, who once again lived up to my low expectations of her by accepting a sponsor's exemption to compete in July’s US PGA John Deere Classic in July. Yes, once again trying to make the cut against top male professional golfers.

Yawn.

No, I’m not going to bother saying "someone hit her in the face with a shovel" again, because the whole thing is just too predictable.  

Lets see…she missed the cut by two strokes in 2005, withdrew due to heat exhaustion during the second round in 2006 and missed the cut at the PGA Sony Open at Hawaii in January, her only prior event this season, due to a convenient wrist injury.

So, why should this attempt be any different?

For someone who stated publicly, to the relief of many of us, that she planned on focusing her efforts on LPGA events, this seems like a deviation from the script again.

Don’t get me wrong, Wie playing against the men professionals is a wonderful thing - for golf writers as it gives us plenty of ammunition - but its still the wrong move for her young career.

She has endorsement money coming out of her ears, but that will all fade if she doesn’t start winning tournaments. Hell, even the Gannon Vietnam Open Championship would look good on her resume right now (hint, hint).

Whoever is managing her needs to stop looking greedily at the short term gain and start worrying about her long-term career.

Wie is set to make her grand entrance next week at the LPGA Tribute event and also plans to play at the LPGA Championship, Canadian Women's Open and Samsung World Championship.

And believe it or not, I actually hope that she wins something.


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