I watched every shot of Sunday's final round of the U.S. Women's Open for one long, tall, beautiful reason.Michelle Wie, 16, was tied for the lead with 18 holes to go.
Just as she was last year.Unbelievable. Michelle Wie finished only one shot back in this year's first LPGA major, the Kraft Nabisco. Doubly unbelievable. Michelle Wie finished only two back at this year's second major, the LPGA Championship. Exponentially unbelievable. Michelle Wie is by far the most talented 16-year-old golfer I've ever seen -- female or male. Then again, I haven't seen many 16-year-old golfers. Talented 16-year-olds contend for amateur titles, not professional majors. I didn't get my first look at Tiger Woods until he became the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Amateur. He was 18. By then, Tiger had won the Junior World Championships six times and the U.S. Junior Amateur three straight times. He went on to Stanford and won two more U.S. Amateurs, giving him three straight of those, too. Obviously, Tiger Woods dominated junior and amateur golf. He learned how to manage his game and his emotions under extreme pressure against the world's best juniors and amateurs -- against players he knew he should beat. Michelle Wie did not. Oh, she was the youngest ever to win the Women's Amateur Public Links. But she caught Internet fire by becoming the youngest to qualify for an LPGA event and the youngest to make an LPGA cut and the youngest to play in a PGA tournament. Now, of course, she wants to be the first woman to play in the men's Open and The Masters. That's all eye-poppingly wonderful except for one question: Can you win, Michelle? Were your parents wise enough and disciplined enough to shut the front door on the temptation of premature fame and fortune while allowing you to slowly build a winner's psyche? No. Did they allow you to forge your confidence against the best players in the world your age? No. Have you ever really learned how to win a golf tournament? No. Have you been built to last, Michelle? I'm afraid the answer is a long, tall, not-so-beautiful no. And this really bothers me because Michelle has become as watchable as Tiger. No offense to Annika Sorenstam or Karrie Webb or Se Ri Pak -- or to the hot new wave of Paula Creamer or Morgan Pressel or Natalie Gulbis -- but it's much easier to reach for the remote when Michelle is off trying to qualify for or make a cut in some men's event. But I don't want a short-term sideshow, produced by Nike. I want an enduring and endearing superstar, which this young lady has the potential to become. I eventually want her to be riveting for the right reason: We think she'll win every tournament she enters. Right now, I don't care whether she can qualify for a men's Open or make a men's cut. I care only whether she can beat women. And right now, she's not nearly as close to winning as her finishes indicate or as she said Sunday after tying for third, two back of Sorenstam and Pat Hurst, who will play 18 more holes for the championship on Monday. "I'm just getting closer and closer," Wie told NBC. While remaining far, far away from having any real idea what she's doing. I can already hear the howls of girls and boys with Michelle posters on their walls -- and of parents who think they're raising the next Michelle or Tiger and who would all but kill for the bragging rights and social status that Michelle has afforded her parents. Not to mention whatever Nike pays her (and them) per year -- something like $5 million. Yes, I can hear the howls of: Give her a break! She's only 16! That's exactly what I'm trying to give her. Right now, she's hanging around the lead in majors on pure talent. She's simply more gifted than any female out there. She looks like she has grown to 6-foot-1, and her swing is as beautiful as she has become as she enters womanhood. She has the ability to hit it farther and closer than just about any pro -- it's almost unfair at times. She can hit Tigeresque recovery shots. She has Phil's touch around and on the greens. She has the whole package -- except the ability to control every aspect of her game under real pressure. What she has done in majors is historically astonishing -- six top fives at 16. But is she really learning how to win? Or to just contend? For now, she still gets a pass from the media and fans -- not to mention a special exemption to play in the Open. Though she could pass for 25 in her shades, dangling earrings and cool outfits, she's still pretty much considered cute little Michelle, giving the crowd that little four-finger wave and that small smile that says, "Gee, I can't believe I just hit a shot that great. I'm only 16!" As yet, the only real pressure she has felt as a pro came when she tried to qualify for the men's Open and began gagging gimme putts like she had never so much as played a $2 Nassau. Has she? As yet, you can't even see the makings of mental toughness or killer instinct. Who knows? Maybe she wasn't born with much of either. But can she be toughened at 16 by constantly playing against the best in the world -- including men? I hope so. Because she can also be crushed by it. A year ago at the Open, she shot 82 on Sunday. But she seemed relatively unfazed by that collapse. On the final hole at this year's Kraft Nabisco, she chipped from the back fringe instead of putting -- an obvious mental error -- and missed the playoff when she took three shots to get down. Great learning experience? At the LPGA, she badly pulled three easy final-nine wedge shots that cost her the tournament. Another beneficial trial by fire? Tied for the lead Sunday with six holes to go, you could just see in her body language that she wanted no part of the shootout that Sorenstam and Hurst staged down the stretch. She just isn't sure of herself yet. So close, so far. She was never really in this thing. Sunday's 2-over 73 was very solid and respectable. But for the tournament, she made only one birdie on par fives -- the holes she should rule. Sorenstam won the World Amateur Championship and the NCAA individual title while at Arizona. That foundation prepared her for winning LPGA rookie of the year. On Monday, she could win her 68th pro tournament and 10th major. Hurst won the U.S. Girls Amateur, the U.S. Amateur, and the NCAA individual and team titles while at San Jose State. That foundation prepared her for winning LPGA rookie of the year. Today, she could win her second major. Sorenstam and Hurst were fire-tested. Yes, Wie hurt her wrist hacking a shot out of the rough on Saturday. Yes, she got stung by an insect during Sunday morning's round. Yes, Sunday was a long, hard 36-hole day in increasingly windy and chilly conditions along the Newport shore. And yes, Wie still beat Creamer and Gulbis by eight shots and the hotheaded Pressel by 12. But if you could pour any of their amateur-honed intangibles into Wie's body, you'd have a Tiger by the tale. Is Wie so rare that she can basically skip the equivalent of amateur golf school attended by all the greats, including Annika and Tiger? Will she soon break through and start winning like crazy? Or, as the media and fans inevitably get impatient and expectations rise, will Michelle get frustrated? For the first time in her life, will she begin to question herself? Will she be able to answer? I hope so. I want to be a Michelle fan. But right now, I'm afraid to be.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.