Wie Shall Overcome

October 09, 2005

In astronomy a protostar is an adolescent cloud of gas and dust not yet hot enough to trigger fusion, the nuclear reaction required to form what is called a main sequence star. A main sequence star is a star in its luminous prime. Many of them, such as Sirius, are instantly identifiable from almost anywhere on Earth. These are the stars upon which people make wishes.

Later this month Michelle Wie will make the transition from protostar to main sequence star. The adolescent golfer will, in the space of a few days, turn 16, turn professional and turn heads in either hemisphere as the world's most famous female athlete.

In doing so, she'll be making more than the transition from high school junior in a retainer to having attorneys on retainer. She'll be making a cultural leap from David Leadbetter (her swing coach) to David Letterman (who recently discussed her boundless potential with actress Kate Hudson on the Late Show). By aspiring to compete against men on the PGA Tour, Letterman noted, Wie has created a feeling "that the doors are now open and you have this new vista ... in the next generation." On a clear day, that vista stretches all the way to Augusta.

In other words, Wie's star is already being wished upon. A giddy sense of possibility is attached to her, one that was intensified last summer when Johnny Miller--not known as a flatterer--told a national television audience that Wie has one of the five best golf swings in the world. This in a game played by untold millions.

Mozart wrote his first symphony at eight, Tatum O'Neal won an Oscar at 10 and Ruth Lawrence graduated from Oxford (with a degree in mathematics) at 13. But the golf swing seems to be more complicated than composing, acting or solving equations--it is like doing all of those things simultaneously--which is why Wie has required all of 15 years to perfect hers.

And though she is only a high school junior--able to drive a golf ball 320 yards but not yet a Volkswagen Golf--I'm certain she'll live up to the hype. Wie shall overcome.

See, as the father of a very young girl already at the top of the height chart, I too am wishing upon this star. It's my hope that Wie will carry the flag, with her impeccable posture, for tall girls everywhere. (Wie is 6 feet and looks, at the end of her follow-through, like Elastigirl from The Incredibles.)

While leaving Arco Arena in Sacramento last month as the court for the WNBA finals was being torn down and the Ringling Bros.'s three rings were being set up, my 6'4" wife inhaled the elephant excrement and said, "Thank God for basketball, or I'd have had to join the circus."

In fourth grade she was told by her mother, "You can be anything you want." My future wife replied, "I want to play in the NFL." Learning that that was impossible, the 10-year-old wrote a letter to Red Auerbach in which she vowed to become the first woman to play for the Celtics. That didn't work out either.

But she did go on to play professional basketball at Madison Square Garden, and her jersey did wind up in the Smithsonian, right next to the ruby slippers that delivered Dorothy from Oz. Both artifacts testify to the transporting power of wishful thinking. And Wie's dream-sowing father, B.J., is a professor of transportation.

My daughter is now blissfully unaware that sports impose any limitations whatsoever. In nine months of life she's playfully sparred with Joe Frazier, stretched with Kristine Lilly, shared a basketball with Diana Taurasi and been coochie-coochie-cooed by a four-time Super Bowl champion, who told us that his mother really wanted a girl, which is why she named her boy Lynn and sent him to ballet class.

That didn't quite work out for Mrs. Swann. But then it's folly to tell kids what they can and can't be. And so Michelle Wie belongs to a generation blithely proceeding on the premise that anything really is possible.

The most important major of her life is not the one Wie will choose at Stanford. By the time she's a freshman there, in '07, she'll be in the same tax bracket as Leland Stanford, who founded the school. No, the most important major of her life may well be the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship or even the Masters, where women might some day turn Magnolia Lane (Augusta's famous front drive) into something resembling Wisteria Lane (address of Desperate Housewives).

So here's to the dawn of the Wie Decade, in which young girls will have another worthy girl to look up to. And tall girls will have one they can literally look up to, because that's another thing about stars, be they celestial or terrestrial.

Like it or not, people steer their ships by them.

> If you have a comment for Steve Rushin, send it to rushin@siletters.com.

It's folly to tell kids what they can and can't be. Wie's generation is blithely proceeding on the premise that anything really is possible.


Eagle (-2)
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