Cook: Wie brings fans, fun into the mix

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FARMINGTON, Pa. -- Maybe the PGA Tour pros have it right. Maybe there is no place for Michelle Wie at their little parties. Maybe, at 16 and a female to boot, she isn't good enough to compete with the world's greatest golfers or even those lesser lights who showed up here at the final 84 Lumber Classic.

Or maybe not.

It sure seemed like Wie belonged yesterday when a "We Love Wie!" chant broke out in the grandstands around the No. 17 green after her tee shot landed within 10 feet. It was so loud and went on for so long that it embarrassed the poor girl. All that was missing was Terrible Towels.

Wait a minute.

They were waving white versions of the Terrible Towel in the crowd.

You don't see that at every PGA stop.

What's wrong with having a little fun at a golf tournament?

It was kind of like that all day for Wie. Spectators frequently lined the fairways two- and three-deep to watch her and went four- and five-deep around the greens. It doesn't take a genius to understand her appeal. She's ridiculously young and fresh and new and something different, yet she's already one of golf's most recognizable faces, thanks to her phenomenal talent and her powerful marketing team. (No offense to first-round leader, Nicholas Thompson, but 99.99 percent of the sport's fans couldn't pick him out of a lineup if their life depended on it). There's also that female thing. Everybody loves an underdog, especially when it's a teenage girl with a ponytail teeing it up against grizzled male pros. They know it takes a lot of strength to put her game on public display when the other pros really don't want her around.

Regular observers of the 4-year-old 84 Lumber tournament say Wie drew the biggest crowds they've seen at the Mystic Rock course, bigger even than Phil Mickelson attracted last year. Certainly, Wie's following dwarfed those yesterday of Vijay Singh, a former world No. 1 player, and John Daly, always a carnival figure even on days such as yesterday when he shot a 6-over-par 78.

Heck, Wie beat that with her 5-over 77 despite a lousy day putting.

You didn't hear any of the pros whine about Big John being in the field, did you?

OK, so their annoyance with Wie tagging along is legitimate to a point. There are hard-working grunts among them -- starving artists, if you will -- who can't get an invite at a time tournament directors are lining up to give her a sponsors exemption even though she's never even won an LPGA Tour event and is about to go 6-for-6 in missed cuts in PGA events. Sure, the boys are going to be a little jealous. Of course, it doesn't seem fair.

Just one question:

Who said life is fair?

Wie is either oblivious to the angst her presence causes or incredibly mature in dealing with it. Probably a little of both.

"I don't really feel any extra pressure just because I'm a girl out here," she said after finishing her round in the gloaming with a three-putt for bogey on No. 9. "I'm not out here to justify anything. That's not the reason I want to make the cut. It just would be an achievement, a goal of mine."

What the fellows need to realize is Wie puts fannies in the grandstands and spectators behind the fairway ropes. She brings world-wide attention to her tournaments -- ESPN's SportsCenter, for instance, led its 84 Lumber coverage with Wie -- which is good for the sport. She also raises money for the tournament charities, which more than justifies a few bruised feelings among the pros.

That's why 84 Lumber Co. owner Maggie Hardy Magerko deserves big props for getting Wie here even if she was a little overprotective of her. Hardy Magerko made sure to make it out to the No. 10 tee -- Wie's first hole of the day -- to give her a good-luck hug and kiss. Just guessing, but Thompson probably didn't get that sort of welcome.

The reality was Magerko Hardy didn't have to make Wie feel so welcome. The golf fans took care of that. It wasn't just that surreal scene at the 17th green. "Let's go, Michelle!" someone screamed, shattering the quiet as Wie approached the 11th green. "Want us to hold that tree back for you?" one man asked Wie after her tee shot landed in the left rough on No. 13. "Get in the hole!" another screamed even as Wie's skunked chip on No. 14 stopped a whopping 11 feet from the pin.

All that was missing was someone screaming, "You the woman!" after her tee shots.

Maybe today.

For sure, Wie will get the Tiger Woods treatment again. You know how that goes. As soon as she chips or putts to tap-in range, spectators start scrambling for position on the next hole, leaving her playing partners -- Matt Hansen and Vance Veazey yesterday -- to putt out in a sea of movement.

See above about life not being fair.

"It's such an amazing feeling," Wie said of the fan adulation. "I can't explain how good I felt when they chanted on 17. It was pretty cool. Amazing."

No, it won't always be like this for Wie. She's not always going to be 16 and fresh and new and different. One day, she will lose her star appeal at the PGA tournaments unless she starts scoring better.

That day is not now, though.

Wie is scheduled to tee off at No. 1 at 8:54 a.m. today. Even at that early hour at a course that isn't easy to get to, she'll have a bigger gallery than anyone else in the tournament.

That's why the pros have it wrong.

At least for now, Wie belongs.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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