- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

PALM DESERT, Calif. — The first sign that something had gone wrong for Michelle Wie was when she was nowhere to be found more than a half-hour after finishing fourth in her professional debut.

The 16-year-old golf phenom, it turned out, had been disqualified after the final round of the Samsung World Championship on Sunday. At issue was a penalty drop that Wie had taken from a bush on a hill above the seventh green during the third round the previous day.

Michael Bamberger, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, suspected that Wie had violated a rule and, on Sunday, said so to Robert O. Smith, the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour rules official.

After Wie and her caddie made two trips to the seventh green Sunday evening to reconstruct the sequence of events, Wie was disqualified, an embarrassing end to the start of her pro career.

“I don’t feel like I cheated,” Wie said, her voice choked with emotion.

That made more news than Annika Sorenstam’s winning by eight shots. And it raised questions about the role of reporters.

Football has referees. Tennis has line judges. Baseball has umpires. Golfers, however, are responsible for calling penalties on themselves, and the stigma for cheating can stay with them forever.

David Toms disqualified himself from the British Open this year when he thought a short putt on the 17th hole moved ever so slightly before he hit it. Toms was the only one who would have known, and even he wasn’t sure. But to be safe, he took himself out of the tournament. There are dozens of examples like that.

Players also have an obligation to call penalties on their peers if they see them. Television gets into the act, too, the most famous case being when a viewer saw Craig Stadler kneeling to hit a shot and placing a towel on the ground to keep his pants from getting dirty. Stadler was cited for building his stance and disqualified.

Mr. Bamberger was standing about 15 yards away as Wie’s 5-wood on the uphill, 470-yard hole hit hard off the top of a slope and shot into an island of desert bushes.

When her caddie, 18-year LPGA veteran Greg Johnston, found the ball, Wie wasted no time telling fellow player Grace Park that she was taking an unplayable lie, then taking out her driver to measure two club lengths and taking a drop. The first time, the ball inched forward, and she dropped it again. From there, some fronds from a small, desert palm slightly interfered with her backswing. She had 45 feet to the hole, the first 20 feet down a steep slope to the green. It was a weak, nervous chip to 15 feet, but she made the par putt.

Mr. Bamberger stayed behind and stepped off the distance from where her ball was in the bush to the hole and from where she dropped to the hole. It caused him enough concern to bring it up to Mr. Smith the next day.

Rules officials said Wie dropped the ball about a foot closer to the hole — Wie later estimated the ball was 3 inches closer — and disqualified her. Wie forfeited the $53,126 check that she would have earned.

Mr. Bamberger asked Wie after the third round how she knew the drop was not closer to the hole, and Wie responded with “the triangle thing.” Draw a line to the hole from the original lie, a line to the hole from where she dropped and “try to make an equilateral triangle.”

“It sounds like I’m teaching geometry here,” she said.

Mr. Bamberger said he became more uncomfortable the more he thought about it.

Players on the men’s tour get so uptight about the rules that they will call for an official over the smallest questions.

Wie, however, looked as if she knew what she was doing. It was the third unplayable lie she had taken that week without calling for an official, and the high-school junior went about her business quickly and decisively.

Wie felt she did nothing wrong.

“Me and Greg were talking when we were up at the shot,” she said. “He told me, ‘Watch out that you’re not closer.’ I made sure that I was farther. Well, I thought I was farther behind. But it looked fine to me. I didn’t have any question in my mind.”

Until Sunday, and then it was too late.

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