Mike Nadel: Wie DQ at State Farm Classic a damn shame
Michelle Wie's eyes were red and sad. Her voice trembled as she fought to maintain her composure. As she left the room, she bowed her head and sniffled. And then ... she was gone.
She was so close to her long-awaited moment of triumph, playing her best golf in years (maybe ever). She stood just one more outstanding round from that elusive first victory. And then ... disqualification. Despair. Devastation.
She was beaten - not by her fellow competitors at the LPGA State Farm Classic or by on-course mistakes but by a technicality.
Wie wasn't the first golfer ever to forget to sign her scorecard and she surely won't be the last, but that doesn't make it any less of a shame.
A damn shame.
If you don't feel for Michelle Wie, a teenager who made an innocent mistake, you have no heart.
After starting off a skeptic, I watched her play for three days and became convinced she'd win. (Following Saturday's round, she was one stroke behind leader Yani Tseng.)
"She was the player to beat this week," said Christina Kim, who led after the first two rounds but fell well behind as part of Wie's group Saturday. "She's playing phenomenal golf."
Now we'll never know how Wie would have played in the final round. We'll never know if she'd have run away from the pack or caved under the pressure. We'll never know if she would have at least done well enough to move up on the money list and earn her LPGA Tour card.
Michelle will never know, either.
"The look on her face ... she was just horrified," said Sue Witters, LPGA director of tournament competitions. "I felt like I was telling somebody there was no Santa Claus."
Quick recap: After shooting 65 Friday, Wie forgot to sign her card before leaving the scorer's tent. A volunteer noticed and tracked her down 30 to 40 yards away, and Michelle signed.
The next morning, Ashley Cushman, the tour's media relations coordinator, overheard the volunteer discussing the scenario. Cushman brought it to the attention of the rules committee. By that time, Wie already had teed off Saturday.
The committee wanted to investigate fully and give Wie a chance to respond, so she was allowed to finish her round. Then she was told about her transgression - and its consequences.
The obviously shaken 18-year-old spoke briefly to the media but declined to answer questions.
"I don't know what happened to me," Wie said. "Usually, I sign first. But I forgot to sign the scorecard. I left the tournament area and a couple of the scorers went after me and I signed it and I turned it in. And I thought it would be OK."
She went on to say it would be "a good learning experience," got up, sniffled, fought back tears, left the media center with her parents, walked out into the stifling heat, climbed into a big SUV and was driven away.
The initial reaction is to lash out at the ancient sport and its zillions of nitpicky rules, many of which are borderline obsolete.
Still, rules are rules. Golfers know they have three responsibilities each game day: Show up on time, play and sign a correct scorecard. Exceptions can't be made for Michelle Wie, Tiger Woods or anybody else.
At the 2005 Samsung World Championship, Wie's first event after turning pro, she was disqualified for signing an improper scorecard after having made an inadvertently illegal drop during play.
Rules violations, injuries, swing flaws, self-doubt, outside interference ... all have curtailed Wie's climb to stardom.
Yes, she's partly to blame. And yes, thanks to the companies that pay her to endorse their products, she's a multimillionaire.
And yet, you must have ice water coursing through your veins if you don't feel some sympathy for her today.
"She just seems to have hurdles thrown at her from every angle at every given moment," Kim said. "She has not had an easy road to get to this point and she's playing so damn good. It's an absolute shame.
"Knowing Michelle, it will probably take a little time for the hurt to go away. There was a lot riding on this week ... and differently from how it had been in the past, she was actually able to stand up to the challenge.
"She's a smart girl. Her confidence is through the roof right now. When the initial hurt wears away, she'll know, 'I'm playing as great as I ever have.'
"But you know these are gonna be the headlines. People are just gonna go and kick the (bleep) out of her again."
Only heartless people will do that.
The rest of us will worry about an 18-year-old kid's psyche and will hope she comes out of this OK.
Mike Nadel (email@example.com) is a GateHouse News Service sports columnist. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.