- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

She’s still golf’s Golden Child. Has there ever been a better player at 16, male or female, than Michelle Wie? But here’s a thought that has crossed my mind more than once the past 24 hours since Wie petered out in the qualifying for the men’s U.S. Open: What if, for all her athletic gifts, she’s cursed with bad luck? Something like that can be harder to overcome than an impertinent putter.

You’ve probably heard, for instance, that a 15-year-old, Tadd Fujikawa, earned a spot in the Open on Monday in Hawaii, from whence Wie comes. This is the same Tadd Fujikawa who finished two strokes behind Wie in local qualifying. Alas, Michelle opted to play in the New Jersey sectional, with its 18 Open berths but deeper field of 153, instead of the sectional Fujikawa entered, with its 10 schmoescompeting for a single Open invite. Why Jersey? Convenience, mostly. The LPGA Championship, in which she’s entered this week, is being held just down the road at Bulle Rock in Maryland.

Were it not for that commitment, Wie could have stayed home like Fujikawa did and quite possibly sneaked into the Open. After all, none of the 10 entrants at Poipu Bay broke 70; Tadd the Teen led the way with a 71-70-141. Wie, meanwhile, shot a 68 in her first round at Canoe Brook. She would have needed a 69 in the second round, though, to be guaranteed a spot in the Open.

Which raises the question: Is that just a tough break, or is it — shiver! — bad luck?

If it were a one-time deal, you’d be inclined to call it a tough break. But it isn’t a one-time deal. Remember the 2004 Sony Open, Wie’s debut on the PGA Tour? She missed the cut then — just a few months after her 14th birthday — by one shot.

I ask you: Would a Certified Lucky Person have come so painfully close, or would one of her near misses have wound up in the bottom of the cup? (For that matter, would a Certified Lucky Person fail to qualify for the U.S. Open after being 2-under — and strongly in contention —through 30 holes?)

This is no small thing. The greatest golfers, it seems, enjoy more than their share of good fortune. It’s part of the package. Take Tiger Woods — and his memorable chip-in at 16 in last year’s Masters. The ball, you may recall, hesitated ever so briefly on the lip before dropping in. Had it been playing partner Chris DiMarco’s shot, it probably would have stayed out. (DiMarco, though talented, has never been thought of as Mr. Four-Leaf Clover.) But with Tiger, well, was there ever a doubt?

So it goes for the Truly Blessed. For them, the tee shot always bounces off the pine tree and caroms into the fairway — when they really need it. And when it doesn’t bounce off the pine tree and carom into the fairway, they somehow wind up with a free drop anyway. There’s a reason golfers are always saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” (Or, to put it another way, “A 350-yard drive don’t mean nuthin’ if you wind up with a mudball.”)

Still unconvinced that Wie might be star-crossed? It’s understandable. It’s difficult to imagine such a prodigy being anything but one of the Chosen Ones. And yet, for all we know, she could be a Greg Norman in the making.

I refer you to the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open, which ended with unsung Birdie Kim blasting out of a bunker on the 72nd hole for the winning, uh, birdie. Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang, the dumbfounded runners-up, were most affected by that twist of fate, but it easily could have been Wie who was snakebitten. She was tied for first at the start of the day before free-falling to an 82.

That’s right, folks, Birdie Kim could have been Michelle Wie’s Larry Mize, her Bob Tway — and there’s no telling where her career would have gone from there. Once you’ve established that you’re unlucky, things can easily snowball. By the end, poor Norman couldn’t hold a six-shot lead in the final round of the Masters.

Let’s hope I’m reading too much into this. Let’s hope Wie is just enduring the growing pains that every aspiring sports deity suffers. The problem for her — unlike, say, Tiger at this age — is that her pains are so public. It’s like she’s being birthed on national television. Some would say that’s bad luck, too.

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