The Age And Sports Question: Why Is It Good For Some, Bad For Others?

By Tony McClean
Updated: July 14, 2005

Michelle Wie

Michelle Wie

“Consequently, her presence (Michelle Wie) here is of major significance, a touching down of greatness in its formative years. Think of Babe Ruth in Legion ball. In a skirt. Not that her magnitude will assuredly be Ruthian one day. But this isn’t about what Wie can become. It’s about what she is.”

— Lonnie Wheeler, Cincinnati Post NEW HAVEN, Ct. — The Michelle Wie phenomenon that has played out in the sport of golf over the last two years has been very interesting to watch. There’s no doubt that this young lady has the potential of being a very successful professional as she matures mentally and physically.

I personally think that it would have been great to see her win the U.S. Men’s Amateur Public Links Championship. Since 1989, the winner of the APL has gotten an invitation to the Masters.

The 15-year-old Wie went through APL qualifying in hopes of earning a spot at Augusta National. After winning a pair of matches on Thursday, she was eliminated by Utah’s Clay Ogden (5 and 4) during Friday’s quarterfinals.

However, I preface all of that to say that there’s something wrong about it as well. Not because she’s a woman playing an alleged man’s game. She’s probably a better player than a lot of male golfers currently on the PGA, Senior, and or Nationwide Tours.

To me, there seems to be some hypocrisy about her being allowed to persue her dream of being on the PGA Tour. Just a few weeks ago, the NBA and the league’s players association agreed on an age limit for their college draft.

Over the years, we’ve seen and heard the predictable Chicken Little-like responses to high schoolers going to the pros from the media. “They’re (high schoolers) not ready to play a man’s game” or “They’re bringing the quality of the game down” they all say.

This question needs to be asked: Why do some think it’s okay for a 15-year-old to be allowed to participate in one professional sport while these same folks don’t have a problem with another sport’s need to stifle another group of teenagers?

Now before you try and dismiss my opinions as sexist, lets look at the facts. When last month’s U.S. Women’s Open was dominated by the play of Wie, 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, and 19-year-old Brittany Lang, they were widely lauded as being “the bright, new faces” of the LPGA.

Even though perennial LPGA champion Annika Sorenstam failed in her pursuit of the women’s Grand Slam, the media couldn’t wait to anoint these teenagers as the future of the sport.

Fast forward to later in the month on the day of the NBA College Draft. That same day, commissioner David Stern and Players Association Chief Billy Hunter happily reported that the two sides had agreed to a new six-year deal which included an draft eligible age limit of 19.

Anyone who’s familiar with this site knows how I feel about about this situation. I do believe despite the league’s alleged “good intentions” about high schoolers entering the league, I think an age limit will wind up causing more problems them fixing them.

Again, this is not to make an example of Wie and these other seemingly talented young ladies. But this existing double standard that mainstream media regards as the 500-pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room is incredibly naive.

To think that race doesn’t factor into this age limit question would be wrong as well. It’s not the main issue, but unfortunately it is a factor. It’s even more ironic when you look at the past and somewhat current history that the sport of golf has had in dealing with minorities and women prior to the emergence of Tiger Woods.

As I previously stated, I was really hoping that Wie would have won the APL. If nothing else, it would have made Hootie Johnson and the boys at Augusta to slowly be brought kicking and scratching into the 21st Century.

In that same vein, the high school hoopsters should be given those same opportunities to play for that Wie and others have taken advantage of in other professional sports.

While some of us may not like that fact that some teenagers will bypass college for the pros, lets at least have a little equity for those who choose to make the move.