Put the PGA Tour on hold. Michelle Wie's best chance of testing her mettle against men could be on the collegiate level. Wie, 14, has shown she can compete with male pros. At January's Sony Open in her native Hawaii, she missed the 36-hole cut by one stroke while becoming the youngest golfer to compete in a PGA Tour event. She beat 47 of the best players in the world.
Her success has fueled speculation that if the ninth-grader at Oahu's Punahou School attends college, which she says she intends to, she'd be more suited teeing off with the men's team than the women's.
According to the NCAA, there are no rules barring women from playing on men's teams, which has college coaches abuzz.
"I don't know why you wouldn't consider it," says Bruce Heppler, the coach of Georgia Tech's top-10-ranked men's squad.
"It's becoming less of a gender sport and more the best player wins, which is the way it should be," notes UCLA men's coach O.D. Vincent, who spoke during a January tournament in Hawaii.
Despite the riches that await her, wunderkind Wie has said she'd like to follow her idol Tiger Woods to Stanford University. Woods won the national title there in 1996 before turning pro.
"College is fun," the 6-foot teenager, who routinely drives balls 300 yards or more, has said. "You get to go to parties, have some great teachers and meet a lot of interesting people."
Stanford men's coach Jeff Mitchell says he wouldn't recruit a female golfer. "A woman ought to play on a women's team," he says. "I cannot imagine an athletic administration that would allow a female on the team when they have a women's program."
That wasn't the attitude of Gary Meredith, who in 1978 asked Beth Daniel to play on his men's team at Furman University in South Carolina. Meredith coached both men's and women's teams at Furman, and when Daniel, one of the top amateurs of her day, became disenchanted with the women's golf program, Meredith asked her to play on the men's team.
Daniel says she played in two tournaments, including one at Wake Forest that was won by Scott Hoch, now a member of the PGA Tour. "My goal was to break 80 every round," she says, "and I did. I was pretty proud of myself."
As for the reverse, the NCAA says no man has attempted to cross over and play on a women's golf team. It's allowable, but if it occurred, the women's team would be ineligible for postseason championships because of the NCAA's "mixed team" rule.
"I keep waiting, but it hasn't happened," NCAA spokeswoman Kay Hawes says.
Wie's parents wholeheartedly endorse the idea of higher education. But her father, B.J. (a professor at the University of Hawaii), said via LPGA tour officials last week that college was "too far off" to sort out her playing possibilities.
Golf Hall of Famer Lee Trevino expects Wie's talent will lead to an early pro career. "The only way she'll see Stanford is if she drives by in her car," Trevino says.
Still, Wie is in the cross hairs of debate about expanding athletic opportunities for women vs. breaking down gender-based barriers.
"If Michelle wants to try out for the men's team, she should be allowed to," says Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation.
Others aren't so sure.
"The underlying supposition here is that there aren't any other women who would give her competition," argues Charlotte West, the former senior athletics director and women's golf coach at Southern Illinois. "If we had used that approach, we wouldn't have as many women's teams today."
Either way, Wie's prodigious skill has sparked a new debate.
"I would not recruit a female unless, No. 1, it would improve the team, and No. 2, be good for women's golf," Stanford's Mitchell says. "It will be interesting to see how it is dealt with in the future."