KILDEER, ILLINOIS | It started in the Bahamas at the first LPGA event of the year. That’s where Michelle Wie took her first long, languid swing, a swing that seemed to go on forever; a swing that was still in windup mode when some of her old swings would have already been at impact or beyond. A swing that that was, for the first time in a long time … probably longer than she could remember … pain free. A swing that triggered fond memories of the way things used to feel. It was the swing that made the 13-, 14- and 15-year-old Michelle the can’t-miss phenom of her generation. It was also the swing that no one had seen in years.
“I’ve touched on this before,” Wie said on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in advance of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club after two days of practice at one of the toughest golf courses the women have seen. “The reason my swing got so short and (I went through) all the swing changes was (because of) my injuries. I’ve had back issues, hip issues, ankle issues and wrist issues, which didn’t allow me to swing the way I wanted to. I had to find a swing that I could play with.”
The mystery of “what ever happened to Michelle Wie?” is wrapped in that myriad of maladies, starting with a gimpy hip that forced her to widen her stance, restrict her once-fluid turn and hit what looked like punch-cut stingers with every club in her bag. A lot of outsiders unfairly blamed her coach, David Leadbetter. Others blamed her dad, B.J., who was by her side on the range at almost every event. Nobody realized that those men were helping an injured athlete compensate for pain.
The Michelle Wie who first set foot on Kemper Lakes as an 11-year-old (in 2001 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship) swung the club like Ernie Els, an effortless motion that generated astonishing power. If you couldn’t see the player and watched nothing but ball flight, you would have thought the 13-year-old Michelle was a PGA Tour player. When you saw the girl, you knew that you were in the presence of a savant, the young Mozart of the game.
Then it all went away. She won a couple of times with swings that looked forced and contorted. And she won her lone major, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, hitting head-high shots with three-quarter swings, motions that negated her length advantage.
It hasn’t completely returned but Michelle’s move of old seems closer now than ever.
“I think being healthier now, I’m trying to get back to that old swing,” she said. “With less restrictions on my body, it’s helping for sure. It’s nice hitting a golf ball and not having screaming pain. But it’s definitely a work in progress. You know, trying to go back, it takes time and it takes confidence. I feel like I’m getting there. The last couple of weeks I feel like the confidence is building. I felt like this year it’s been getting closer and closer. I just need to trust the rhythm.”