Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie have a lot in common. The most obvious is that both were highly touted as great long before they had accomplished anything professionally on the golf tour.
The difference is just as stark—Woods became one of the great golfers of all time, while Wie has just two wins and no major championships.
Of course, at 23, Wie still has youth on her side. Woods is battling injuries and Father Time.
Whenever a sportswriter throws around superlatives about who might be the next great athlete in a particular sport, look out.
For one, it’s nearly impossible to live up to lofty expectations based on potential.
And secondly, for even the most talented, it’s difficult to project the long-term physical and mental health of any given athlete.
Tiger Woods’s impact on golf is beyond dispute. Even those who aren’t golfers have been fascinated by the accomplishments of this truly remarkable athlete.
I daresay that before Tiger, golfers weren’t thought of as particularly athletic in the sense that a Michael Jordan and Robert Griffin III are thought of as athletic. But Tiger has always looked like an athlete.
It’s not every athlete who is so well-known that everyone identifies him or her by one word. But if you say “Tiger,” almost everyone knows you’re not talking about the zoo, although his life has become a bit of a zoo in recent years.
For years, Tiger was without doubt the best golfer in the world. Not only was he physically the best golfer, but he seemed to be the toughest golfer mentally as well.
He accumulated major golf victories so rapidly the question wasn’t whether he’d top Jack Nicklaus’ record for winning major tournaments, but how far he would surpass it.
Right now, it’s debatable whether Woods will reach that record.
While Tiger stayed at the top of the golf world longer than most, that stay is over. The only question is whether he can reclaim his title as best golfer in the world, while staking a claim as best golfer ever.
Tiger’s image has taken a beating ever since he drove his car into a tree. As a result of his all-too-public mistakes off the course, he has gone from the most popular golfer and athlete in the world to the role of villain.
It’s no secret that his behavior on the golf course won’t win any golfing etiquette awards, but it’s his behavior off the course that seems to have brought his game back to Earth.
Wie is an interesting case-study. In spite of her limited professional success, she’s rich with endorsement money.
Most golfers fresh out of college and carrying her credentials would be viewed as a budding superstar. But so far, Wie has been more novelty act than LPGA player.
When she was just 14, the public was fascinated by her junior accomplishments and early amateur appearances in selected pro events.
Then there was the seeming obsession to compete against men, with a stated goal of becoming the first woman to play in the Masters and U.S. Open. Just before turning 16, Wie turned pro and was rewarded with millions of dollars in endorsement deals.
But by the end of 2006, her first full year as a professional, Wie had missed the cut in 11 out of 12 tries against men.
Instead of Wie, 16-year-old Lexi Thompson became the youngest winner in LPGA history.
Unless or until Wie wins a major event, the second-guessers will wonder if her fate is an over-promoted, mishandled golfing disappointment.
Unfortunately for Wie, a mulligan isn’t an option.