She’s certainly playing better, but it doesn’t look easy. Michelle Wie continues to approach golf like it’s a UFC cage fight, battling the course and her swing in ways that seem violent and painful.
She hasn’t won an event since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, but the T2 at the Meijer LPGA Classic in Michigan last week – her best finish almost three full years – moved her up 15 spots in the Rolex Rankings. That runner-up comes on the heels of a T3 at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and a fourth at the Lorena Ochoa Match Play. Two other top-10s at the HSBC Women’s Champions and the ANA Inspiration give rise to the notion that Wie might be back on track.
But what track is it? With four professional wins, Wie could be the greatest underachiever in the game, a can’t-miss kid who became the Carson Palmer of women’s golf.
At age 27 – and it’s hard to believe she’s only 27 given how long she’s been in the public eye – Wie’s career is hardly over. Healthy and confident, she might finally be ready to live up to the new expectations we have for her as a solid contender.
“I’ve been looking through the stats and I compared last year to this year and also went back to 2014, which is when (Wie) won her U.S. Open and the tournament in Hawaii,” Karen Stupples, a major champion and Golf Channel analyst, said by phone on Wednesday. “The stats are very similar to 2014. She’s actually hitting more fairways. She’s hitting about the same (number of) greens, but the putting is making a big difference. Last year she had 1.85 (putts per green in regulation). This year she’s at 1.77. In 2014 she was at 1.76. So she’s really close to realizing her potential.
“I also really feel like the fact that she’s starting to hit a fade, taking the left side out of the equation, is giving her confidence to do what she needs to do around the golf course. That’s how she (won) the U.S. Open. She had a plan and she stuck to it. With her analytical mind, I really feel like she needs that.”
Wie’s analytical mind has sometimes gotten in her way. The table-top putting stance was an attempt to take the arc out of the stroke, and the abbreviated, contrived punch shots she played looked at odds with all things natural in her game.
“I think Michelle Wie plays her absolute best, and this has really been the case since she was really 14 or 15 years old, when she looks more natural and when she feels more natural,” Mark Rolfing, a Hawaii resident who has known Wie since childhood, said during the same phone call. “That is really what has changed in my mind with her putting more than anything. She has so much overload sometimes from her analytics that I feel like she’s trying to play a series of golf shots rather than going out and playing golf.
“What I’m seeing a little more is her going out and playing golf, in which she gets joy. When she’s a little more joyful and feels like she does have a plan that she can stick to, that allows her to play golf as opposed to just executing a series of shots to transfer the ball from point A to point B.”
With two major championships coming up on “big” golf courses, Wie’s new-and-improved form will be put to the test.
Here’s hoping she makes the run fans want to see.
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