LPGA needs Wie more than ever at Open

Michelle Wie could save women’s golf.

That sounds like an awful lot of responsibility to heap on the shoulders of a 19-year-old college student, but women’s golf needs Wie more now than it did when she first burst on the scene five years ago as a 14-year-old prodigy.

The LPGA has been losing tournaments faster than John Daly loses fortunes, and what it needs right now is a bona fide superstar.

Wie can fill that role.

Currently the LPGA has only 15 tournaments on the 2010 schedule. Attracting new sponsors and getting current ones to stay loyal would be a whole lot easier if Michelle were lighting up the fairways.

Currently balancing college life at Stanford with her first full season on the LPGA Tour, Wie refused to accept the pressure of having to support the weight of the LPGA.

“I think we have a strong enough product,” Wie said. “I think everyone out here is strong enough. I think the LPGA itself is really solid.

“My responsibility is to play well and to get that win. I think everything else will take care of itself. I’m just trying to work on my game and try to become the player I want myself to be, and not what everyone wants me to be.”

Wie will make the LPGA and sponsor Ricoh extremely happy when they read preview stories of the $2.2 million Women’s British Open. Even though she succeeded England’s 2004 champion Karen Stupples in the interview room, the headlines in the British press will surround the six-foot Hawaiian player.

Wie guaranteed the headlines when she fumbled a question about bodyguards and death threats.

Yes, death threats.

In 2006, under a different management company, Wie turned up at Royal Lytham accompanied by minders and management minions and bodyguards. Since changing management companies from William Morris to IMG, Wie enjoys a lower profile.

However, even though she was trying to make light of her previous situation, she ensured sensational newspaper coverage when she voluntarily talked about death threats.

“It wasn’t like I want 10 (body) guards with me because I’m just that cool,” Wie said. “It wasn’t really that kind of stuff. It was just the tournament believed that I might need extra (protection).

“It just depends how many death threats I get that week. I guess this week it’s only a couple, so I’m not in that much danger this week.”

Talk about manna from heaven for British newspapers?

Wie would make the sponsor even happier were she to win the title this week. There was a time when such a scenario seemed entirely possible. She placed third in this event when it was held at Royal Birkdale in 2006.

Her chances have dwindled since then. Three years ago, her chances of winning here were ruined when she suffered a two-stroke penalty in a greenside bunker on the 14th hole.

She missed the cut in 2007 at St Andrews, and didn’t play this event last year because she was ineligible.

She has some catching up to do.

Wie’s winning game plan this week is simple: keep the ball in play and stay out of the bunkers. With even more little pits of sand dotted around the Lytham links after course improvements for the 2011 Open Championship, the latter task is easier said than done.

“There’s a definite respect for these bunkers. These bunkers are not just any sort of bunkers. They are definite hazards.”

With Stupples and Wie both talking about a level par score winning this tournament, the key to the week will be conservative play off the tee.

Wie in contention would help bring the fans out, too. Tournaments in this neck of the woods are usually well supported. In fact, if the weather turns nice over the weekend, then there is every chance there could be a better atmosphere here at Lytham this week than there was at Turnberry for the Open Championship.

A Wie win would give great succor to this year’s Solheim Cup, too. She is currently not on the US team, and needs either a victory here or a captain’s pick from Beth Daniel to play at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.

“I would love to play. It would be the greatest honor. It’s one of the biggest goals for me this year to play in the Solheim Cup. It’s been weighing on my mind the whole year.

“A win will solve everything.”

Women’s golf can say amen to that.