- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

The Wies were well off-line at last week’s U.S. Women’s Open.

By now, most of the golf world is well aware of the fact that there was a major spat between 13-year-old prodigy Michelle Wie and 37-year-old Danielle Ammaccapane after the opening round at Pumpkin Ridge. But thanks to Wie’s darling status in the media, reports of the incident have yielded more spin than a Phil Mickelson lob wedge.

Wearing the black hats in the aftermath of the tiff are Ammaccapane and her father, Ralph. Danielle, a 17-year veteran and seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour, has been portrayed as an envious and notoriously prickly type who was unduly harsh in her post-round lecture to Wie on etiquette. And Ralph, who apparently intercepted and lambasted the Wies on their way to the locker room on Saturday morning, has been painted as a virtual madman.

The Wies, on the other hand, have been generously issued free passes. Michelle is the unsuspecting youngster who had her first major championship tarnished by a vet’s picayune complaints. And Wie’s father B.J. is a well-intentioned, if inexperienced, caddie simply trying to save his family some money by handling his daughter’s loops.

“I can’t believe this happened to me in my first Open,” said Michelle after finishing tied for 39th. “I think she should apologize.”

Actually, Wie should apologize for her conduct both on and off the course.

First, let’s review the litany of offenses committed by Wie and her father on the course. We’ll start with B.J., who riled Ammaccapane by walking in her extended line at address several times, insufficiently raked several bunkers, failed to tend the pin for his daughter once and generally was distractingly engaged in cheerleading.

Any one of these breaches in etiquette would be sufficient grounds for a lecture. Remember Peter Kuchar, who earned notoriety as his son Matt’s caddie at the 1998 Masters and U.S. Open? Guilty only of excessive cheerleading, Peter was dubbed a “moronic dancing bear” by one tour veteran at the Masters, and then drew repeated angry glares from Justin Leonard at the Open. Imagine what Leonard would have done if presented with the wholesale incompetence of B.J. Wie.

In the words of his daughter, B.J. turned Michelle’s bag over to her swing coach, Gary Gilchrist, for the final round because reports of his behavior “made him look like an idiot.” But B.J. says he will return to his daughter’s bag for future events, because it’s “beyond his budget” to hire a professional caddie.

With the notable exception of Steve Williams, it’s hard to think of many pro caddies who wouldn’t gladly handle Michelle’s bag pro bono for the opportunity to forge a relationship with the player who already has been dubbed the future of women’s golf.

And Michelle has a good bit of learning to do herself in the etiquette department. Like her father, Michelle walked in extended putting lines. And perhaps worse than any of his offenses, she once hit out of turn, an egregious error which draws immediate apologies even from most weekend hacks.

But Wie’s ultimate error was her refusal to swallow the nasty medicine Ammaccapane dispensed after the round in the scorer’s tent. Should Ammaccapane have handled the situation with more patience and less venom? Absolutely.

But when a veteran player pulls you aside to impart some reality, even if those words are delivered with a driver instead of a feathered wedge, you’ve got to shut your mouth and listen. Instead, Wie ran to B.J. and whined about Ammaccapane’s nastiness, possibly even fabricating the supposed bumping incident which B.J. screamed about to the press. That claim and later retraction was what pushed Ralph Ammaccapane to the edge of fisticuffs.

The bottom line is that if Wie wants to play with the pros, she’s going to have to stop acting like an amateur. She’s only 13, but when you’re 6 feet tall, can wallop 300-yard drives and have more talent than any two other women on the planet, you don’t have the luxury of a learning curve where comportment is concerned.

There undoubtedly will be lesser players, both women and men, throughout her career who will enviously look to spit on Wie’s star. But that’s even more reason why her behavior must be beyond reproach both on and off the course. Tiger understood this byproduct of super fame long before he hired IMG.

More than perhaps any other sport, golf demands a rigorous code of courtesy and respect from its most prestigious competitors. When you are inside those ropes, you are inside the office of every player in the field. Every nuance of the game’s etiquette must be respected, as must the unspoken code that rules all three major tours.

One rule of that code is that only in the most extreme circumstances do you air your grievances with another player in public. Grievances are kept in-house, handled in the privacy of the locker room or the scorer’s tent, a la Ammaccapane. They are not discussed in the press, a la Wie.

Wie stepped all over the sanctity of golf’s code of courtesy and respect last week. And if she thinks Ammaccapane overreacted to her errors, one can only shudder at what lies ahead for her later this summer when she joins the men in forays onto both the Nationwide and Canadian PGA Tours.

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