Todd at WTA Backspin has given us any number of original adjectives ("Jankovician") and nicknames ("Punch Drunk/Punch Sober"), the newest of which is Current Sloane/Future Sloane. The hope is, of course, that Current Sloane (Stephens) will eventually play herself into being Future Sloane. I wrote, a few days ago, that if pre-injury Maria Kirilenko showed up for her first round match against Stephens, it could get interesting, meaning--good luck, Sloane.
Uh huh. The "real" Kirilenko showed up, and frankly, on one of Stephens' good days, I think she would lose to Kirilenko on grass, but this wasn't one of her good days. Actually, she hasn't had many "good" days lately. Kirilenko defeated her in straight sets.
Will there ever be a Future Sloane? Who knows? But here, I speak not only about Stephens, but--if your name is Bencic, Svitolina, Townsend, Vekic, Schmiedlova, or some other phenom moniker--listen up, because I have two words for you: Michelle Wie.
The burden of being a teen phenom, especially in an individual sport, is a big, awkward load to carry. And especially if you're female. People build you up, and then--with glee--they tear you down. The more talent you are declared to have, the more vicious is the public pack when it rips you to pieces.
At age 14, Wie was said to have maybe more talent than any girl who had ever picked up a golf club. At age 15, she was tied for the lead at the U.S. Open at the 55th hole. At age 16, she came very close to winning three LPGA majors. And then it all went to hell. I mean, really to hell. Wie was cast as the most over-hyped, over-confident, over-everything athlete in the world.
Michelle Wie had an extraordinarily tough path to follow. She was a phenom who "went bad," she wasn't "white," she was female. But she had one really important thing (aside from her obvious talent) in her favor: She had parents who believed totally in her. And she did all the right things. She worked out hard at the gym and became even fitter. She went to Stanford and got a degree. She respected her own artistic ability and put a lot of energy into drawing and painting. She expressed herself fully as a person.
In 2009, Wie finally won a title. She won another one in 2010. Then she came this close to winning the Kraft Nabisco (The Dinah), a major, earlier this year. That had to sting, but it also meant that Wie was on the right track. Always known (and made fun of) for unusual putting techniques, Wie adopted the "table-top" style of putting last year, which makes perfect sense if you are aware of what a visual person she is. And yesterday, she won the U.S. Open.
Wie was the clear leader going into the fourth round, but her lead slipped a bit, and at the 70th hole she committed a double bogey. It looked bad. But she was not daunted by that; she went on to win her first major. The runner-up was world number 1 Stacy Lewis, which had to make the victory even sweeter. And even in celebrating the greatest win of her 24-year-old life, Wie has been criticized and made fun of for the way she did it: She drank from the trophy and twerked.
If Michelle Wie had pulled off all of her clothes and run down the highway drinking, twerking and singing "Single Ladies," it would have been okay with me. I teared up as soon as she won. It was a big deal. It was a reminder of how athletes inspire us. And it was a reminder that "phenom" craziness can be overcome.
Future Michelle has arrived. What a delight. Sometimes, the path is long and winding. Pay attention, phenoms--if your career doesn't go Evert- or Hingis-style, remember: Michelle Wie has a lesson for you, and it isn't in table-top putting.