Maybe Futures was what Wie needed

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Michelle Wie applied Tuesday for the LPGA qualifying tournament, the first stage of which is next week in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, and at the verdant age of 18.

Another 18-year-old will be skipping both stages of Q-school this year. Vicky Hurst was a junior-golf phenom from Melbourne, Fla., who decided the best path to the LPGA was a year on the Futures Tour. Hurst broke the tour's single-season earnings record, and her finish on the money list �" clinched long before her appearance in last week's I Love NY Championship at Capital Hills, where she tied for fourth �" gives her unconditional LPGA status for next year.

Futures officials have invited and even encouraged Wie to play on their tour. Wie may have more natural talent than any American woman ever, but she never developed it properly. Instead of playing in men's tournaments and select LPGA events, Wie should have been learning how to become a professional �" inside and outside the ropes.

"I learned so much more this year than another of my other years of playing competitive golf," Hurst said after her $93,107 season. "Just getting competition like these girls can provide is the most important thing any athlete can have. I'm very thankful to be out here and make the LPGA next year."

Q-school is the McDonald's way of trying to get to the LPGA. Have a good week at the tournament and a golfer is in.

Once she's in, though, does she have what it takes to stay there? Talent will help, but there's more to it than that.

"They learn not just how to compete out here, they learn life skills," said LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens, who attended the final day of the local Futures stop. "They learn all of the other things that come along with being a professional �" dealing with the media, making travel arrangements, what to do when it rains and your transportation gets messed up. All of those other things that sometimes can be the barriers to women transitioning."

Bivens wouldn't say Wie made a mistake by not playing the Futures, but Hurst seems to be a prime example of which way is better. More than 80 percent of LPGA players have played on the developmental tour.

"I'm not going to compare women because women are very different," Bivens said. "It doesn't mean that the approach that one's taking is right for the other one, but I sure am proud of what Vicky's done and we're looking very forward to having her on the LPGA.

"I don't think we want to say this is one size fits all. I would say the track record of the women coming through the Duramed Futures Tour is much better than other roads that lead to the LPGA. We have far fewer women lose their cards that come to us through the Duramed Futures Tour than come to us through Q-school."

It's a message that shouldn't be lost on the next upcoming teenage star. ... ory=SPORTS

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