Exactly what does it mean to be non-competitive? Well, the LPGA has put a number on it: 88.
If a non-member shoots an 88 or higher in an LPGA tournament, she is banned from LPGA events for the rest of the year. Golf writers have been typing until they're blue in the hands about Michelle Wie's withdrawal from last week's Ginn Tribute.
In case you've somehow managed to miss the coverage, the gist is that she withdrew from the event after playing 16 holes including five bogeys, a double, a triple and even a quintuple-bogey (!) leaving her just two bogeys short of reaching that dreaded 88. However, she claims she withdrew because her previously injured wrist was bothering her. (Like, I tweaked it, you know?)
Would they have allowed her to withdraw if the reason was avoiding the 88 rule? No? So if that was the reason, she had to lie. What? Dishonesty is frowned upon in golf? It shows a lack of respect for the game, its rules, and your fellow players? Like, whatever. I guess it's the truth, then.
There have been implications of a conspiracy involving LPGA officials and agents that warned Wie to drop out despite the rules on giving and receiving advice except from a caddie. Speaking of advice, there was a questionable situation in that same round in which she might have received those dreaded two strokes in the form of a penalty because her father gave her advice on that triple-bogey hole (they didn't assess the penalty because she didn't ask for the advice - though I agree with Beth Ann Baldry that perhaps the "didn't ask" clause isn't meant to include parents or coaches).
Yet another rule she gets away with not breaking - this time because she's a non-member and it doesn't apply - is that she played the golf course the week before the tournament, something members are barred from doing.
Learning how to avoid these types of mistakes (and learning that they are mistakes) can be done by players as they work their way up the ranks, playing in events in which they can compete and getting accustomed to the rules, etiquette and decorum expected of a professional golfer. This isn't to say that Wie can't be competitive in LPGA events. Of course she can, but her camp of marketers has launched her into a spotlight where every misstep is highlighted and must be defended.
The controversy surrounding her, plus her lack of experience leading to many of the blunders (like needing advice from a parent in the first place), plus her entire camp's superstar attitude as if golf should be a laissez-faire system (but only for her) just eats away at my brain like the buzz of a casino when I get back to my hotel room. I think it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of anyone who cares about the rules of golf.
So what do we have here...
- Possible dishonest withdrawal
- Receiving advice
- Pre-playing the course
So what about PGA Tour Events?
I'm currently reading John Feinstein's book Tales from Q School, from which I learned that in that tournament (the qualifying tournament for the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour), players will be deemed non-competitive if they don't "come close to breaking 80" in four rounds. The PGA doesn't just ban these players for a year, they maintain a list of non-competitive players and make them prove that they can compete, essentially qualifying to qualify. The idea is that it's not fair for players to be distracted by non-competitive players in a tournament that can make or break their careers. Q-School is grueling and a rite of passage that most players on the PGA Tour have had to endure, many of them several times. To go through all that just to be distracted from a PGA Tour event by a non-competitive player (or even sideshow) when they know they'll have to go back to Q-School if they don't produce... well, that certainly can't be fair.
Remember Casey Martin, the golfer with the degenerative disease in his leg that took the PGA Tour all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to play in a cart and won? All the attention from that case made him into something of a sideshow as well, but he had the respect for the game not to exploit the system with his star power. Martin went back to Q-School year after year and played on the developmental tours in between, trying to work his way up to the PGA Tour. He did not use his stardom to apply for exemptions and try to make some cuts and maybe win enough money to stay. According to Tales from Q School, Martin "thought it pointless to take a spot in the field from someone else when he was likely to miss the cut." I guess that's because he knows how hard it is for those guys to earn their way there. No matter where you stand on the cart/no cart issue, you have to respect him for that.
Some people may blame the sponsors for giving Wie exemptions in the first place. I'm sure she doesn't even have to apply for them, they're just thrown in her lap. But that doesn't mean she has to accept them. Some poor schmuck is going to have to go back to Q-School because some non-competitive player took up a coveted spot in the field in one too many tournaments. Of course, there is no way for a female player to earn her way to the PGA Tour. Not officially, at least. But maybe the next time she plays on an exemption and doesn't "come close to breaking 80"(the standard for Q-School), maybe she should get a letter of non-competitiveness and be kept on file. Would they let her attempt Q-School? Even if she qualified to qualify? I doubt she'd dare if they did.
Oh, and... pssst.... Ms. Bivens... over here. How about a golf blogger's exemption? I've been known to break 88 and who knows, I could string together a couple of miracle rounds and possibly make a cut. Okay, probably not, but think of the publicity we could generate!