WIE BUBBLE CLOSE TO BURSTING
It wasn’t too long ago that Michelle Wie seemed to have the golfing world firmly secured in her talented hands. But no longer
Not since Tiger Woods left the amateur ranks in 1996 had golf seen anything like it.
In a blaze of publicity Michelle Wie turned professional amid talk of her not just going on to dominate the women’s game, but also taking on and beating the men as well.
As contracts worth millions were signed even the majors were in the sights of the youngster and those promoting her. And to assist her in achieving her goals the rules of the Open Championship were quickly changed so that she could play if she was good enough to qualify.
Wie’s switch to the money-spinning world of pro golf came just before her 16th birthday. But look at her now 21 months on. Oh dear.
The future may, of course, still be paved with gold and full of victories. It would be stupid to think otherwise of one so young.
But the present is dire, truly awful.
On Saturday she withdrew from the United States Women’s Open after 27 holes played in 17 over par – an opening 82 followed by an outward 42.
Wie said the pain in her injured wrist, fractured in a fall in January, had become just too much to bear. As indeed must months and months of going backwards in her career at a quite alarming rate.
“I just woke up and it was really sore,” said the Hawaiian. “I hit a drive off the seventh tee and just tweaked it. I don’t remember hurting this much. The last thing I want to do is withdraw, but it left me with no choice.”
Having already withdrawn fom next week’s John Deere Classic on the US Tour – all her ventures onto the men’s tour are surely over for a considerable time – her next scheduled appearances are the Evian Masters in France at the end of July followed by the Women’s British Open at St Andrews.
The Home of Golf is staging its first professional women’s event and the meeting of the “Old Lady”, as the course is known, and this particular young lady was to have been something to savour.
Now it is not even certain that Wie will be there. Or, if she is, whether her health and her game will be in any sort of shape to make it a fair contest.
Last week was just her third tournament since returning from a four-month absence. She is 52 over par for her last 115 holes and has not broken par for 23 rounds going back well into last year.
According to Wie, her doctors have told her that the break has healed, but that there will be “good days and bad days” for some time yet.
“I don’t want to lay off again, but we’ll have to wait and see. “I just have to re-evaluate, make some smart choices, because I obviously don’t want this to happen again.
“I definitely want to compete, because that’s what I like to do, but I have to think about my health.”
And also think about her whole career because she appears to have totally lost her way since that incredible performance aged 14 when she was one stroke away from making the cut at the US Tour’s Sony Open. Current world number four Adam Scott was among the players she finished ahead of that week.
In her 82 last Thursday she managed to hit just four greens in regulation and yet she came off saying: “It’s just a very fine line between shooting 69 and shooting what I shot. A couple strokes here, a couple of strokes there.”
That was taking positive thinking to a new level.
“Once I trust myself and have confidence again, I think it’s a done deal,” she added. “I just need to see the ball go where I want it to because my swing feels good, short game feels pretty good and I was putting great.”
This was the first time she had not made the cut in 15 majors – and the heady days of finishing in the top five of majors six times, three of them last season, are now a distant memory.
It is not just her scoring and her injury that have taken her on a downward spiral either. There has been controversy too.
Disqualified from her debut because of a wrong drop – a reporter sparked an investigation the following day and only after she had finished fourth was she given the news – she also ran into trouble with a two-stroke penalty at last year’s Women’s British Open.
But nothing was as bad as her appearance in South Carolina a month ago when she had to react to suggestions that she pulled out of an event with two holes to play because two more bogeys would have meant an 88 and a ban from the rest of the LPGA Tour season – and that her father broke Tour rules by giving her advice.
To Wie and her circle, though, the main concern is obviously her fitness and her game.
Recently Gary Gilchrist, a former coach of Wie, did not mince his words. “She’s all over the place,” he said. “The swing has gone.”
That was hitting her when she was down. Although she had made the cut in the LPGA Championship, the second of the season’s majors, she had gone on to finish last at the weekend with scores of 83 and 79.
Current coach David Leadbetter countered: “Gary used to work for me and I’m sure there’s a little bit of jealousy there. It worked pretty well last year. Everybody’s got their own opinion.”
Still not actually a member of the LPGA circuit, Wie has been accepted to Stanford University later this year. That is also where Woods studied and enjoyed himself.
One can only hope Wie has fun there too. It is what her life most needs at the moment.
By Mark Garrod of PA Sport
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