Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Taking the Wiesy way out

It should have been so Wiesy, but alas, it wasn't. The turmoil over Michelle Wie's misplaced drop in the third round of her first professional tournament is fascinating to watch. There's Michael Bamberger, the author of a couple of my favourite golf books, being questioned because he took a day to decide whether to turn Wie over to the rules officials. "I was just uncomfortable that I knew something," he said, adding, "Integrity is at the heart of the game." Bamberger would later say he didn't think Wie was actually trying to cheat -- she was just "too hasty," he noted. Bamberger's books make him out to be pretobservantent and with a good sense of humour. I never took him to take the game too seriously, but apparently his time working as a caddy has also made him a keen upholder of the rules of golf.

Interestingly, Alan Shipnuck, who has also written a pretty good insiders account of professional golf, wrote a story in SI, the publication Bamberger works for, trying to put some context on the situation:

Bamberger not only knows the rules, he also knows how to apply them -- in 1985 he spent a year caddying on the PGA Tour, and in 1990 he caddied for a season on the European Tour. But last week, Bamberger was traveling on a different passport, as a reporter.

Bamberger, evidently, felt he was in a bit of a spot after witnessing the Wie drop. You can see him in the footage played over and over on the Golf Channel -- he's wearing a pink shirt and standing behind Wie and caddy, Greg Johnston. The whole Wie saga has been so overplayed that I won't even try to present any details. I couldn't possibly outdo the Golf Channel, who showed the video so often that it appeared they had their own copy of showed the video of the drop over and over again. It was like a golf version of the Zapruder film. We were given Golf Channel talking heads detailing the drop ("you can see her first attempt roll closer to the hole,") and even in studiodreenactmentent, with potted plants sitting in for the cactus that were in Wie's way.

Anyway, Bamberger said it "nevoccurredred to me to call in a rules official," which makes sense. He's a reporter and is supposed to comment on the action, not be part of it. So he questioned Wie about it following her round. She said the drop was correct, and it didn't hurt that she'd made par on the hole even after taking an unplayable. But Michael clearly likes to be part of the action, that's what his books are about, so he went out on the course to walk off the drop and on Sunday and spoke to a rules official about it.

Shipnuck defends Bamberger, which isn't all that surprising, really. But his logic is a bit off:

In fact, third parties -- even reporters -- who point out rules infractions are protecting the field and preserving the integrity of the competition.

I tend to think of reporters as observers, not participants. In this case, Bamberger became a participant. It is crossing a line around which news reporters should tread lightly. Reports indicated that Wie and her father, BJ, were not too happy when questioned about the drop. Apparently Michelle became "very upset," according to the rules official who had her demonstrate the drop, but I guess that's not tsurprisinging. She's surely feeling a lot of pressure having signed huge endorsement deals and this is a huge embarrassment. Wonder how long her "professional caddy," will keep his job after advising her the drop was correct?

Of course Wie had her defenders. Golf commentator Mark Rolfing, a self describer "friend of the Wies," (is that your role as a television analyst, Mark?) told a Hawaii paper that the decision was a "travesty," adding, "I really don't think this is the way the rules of golf ought to be policed."

"I just think this is way worse than losing $50,000," Rolfing said of Wie losing her winnings. "It's going to cast a shadow on her first professional tournament that she committed a rules violation."

While Mark may have a bias, that statement rings true. There are already a lot of naysayers suggesting thatWie shouldn't have turned professional so quickly. She should have taken some time to learn to win and mature. But that wasn't going to happen. Her family, which had spent a fortune pumping up her image and brand, needed to cash in and did so. She signed with the William Morris Agency. She's now a spokesmodel and the best paid woman in LPGA golf, though she's never won anything of note.

Will this incident scar Wie? Don't bet on it. This crew is so self-absorbed and media savvy that when she finally wins -- and she surely will at some point -- they will make comments about how Michelle's win demonstrated that she could overcome the adversity she encountered early in her time on the LPGA Tour.

It is all about spin in the Wie camp and you know, in the background, the wheels are turning quickly.

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