Maybe Its Time for Wie to Change Her Course

By Associated PressNovember 28, 2006, 5:00 pm
For someone who grew up in Hawaii, Michelle Wie picked the perfect metaphor to explain her recent struggles.
'Golf goes in waves,' she said.
She was on the kind of wave found in winter at Waimea Bay earlier this year when she came within a whisker of becoming the youngest major champion in history, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship. The biggest wave she caught might have been at Canoe Brook, when only a shaky putter kept Wie from becoming the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open.
Michelle Wie
For Michelle Wie, the year has been filled with highs and lows.
Now, nearly every ride ends with a spectacular wipeout.
The latest was last week in Japan, where the 17-year-old Wie failed to break 80 in either of the first two rounds of the Casio World Open.
The only bright spot was that she didn't finish dead last, as she did at the Omega European Masters and the 84 Lumber Classic. An amateur, Tomomichi Oto, finished one shot worse.
The senior at Punahou School in Honolulu has gone back to the books for the final month of a tumultuous year, but Wie is eager to get back in the water. Asked if her latest crash would deter her from playing against the men, she replied, 'Not at all.'
Wie played seven times against the men this year, with an average score of 75.07 in 15 rounds (including U.S. Open qualifying). She broke par four times, twice at the SK Telecom Open when she became the first woman to make the cut on the Asian Tour.
Criticism comes not from missing the cut, but from an empty trophy case.
The last time Wie experienced winning was in 2004 at the Curtis Cup, a victory she shared with seven other amateurs. The last trophy she hoisted on her own was the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at age 13.
She changed caddies in August. She changed agents in October.
The next thing she should consider changing is her course.
Wie is not about to give up her dream of competing against the men, whether that's a realistic goal of earning a paycheck on the PGA Tour or her fantasy of playing in the Masters.
But, for now, the next paper she writes should be a letter to LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens asking that the age requirement (18) be waived so Wie can join the tour.
Don't hold your breath. The Wie camp seriously considered asking to join the LPGA Tour, but instead will stick to the plan of Wie playing part-time against the women and men, enjoying her senior year of high school and deciding where to go to college next year (her family has ties to Stanford and UCLA).
Joining the LPGA Tour, however, makes good sense.
The LPGA counts money from domestic tournaments with at least 75 players in the field, which limits Wie to the Fields Open, the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship (the U.S. Women's Open doesn't count because its purse is so large). With only those three tournaments, she still earned $238,913, well inside the top 90 on the money list to apply for membership.
Joining the LPGA would be a detour, not an about-face.
More than anything, it would give Wie better options in building a schedule. Without an LPGA Tour card, she can play only eight times against the women -- six sponsors' exemptions, the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open. To fill in the holes, she wound up playing six times against the men.
Given her success rate against men, and the damage it might be doing to her confidence, that's probably four times too many.
Having not won in more than three years, Wie made solid progress this year. She missed a 10-foot birdie putt to get into a playoff at the Nabisco, and had a share of the lead on the 16th hole of the LPGA Championship until making bogey with a wedge in her hand.
'I felt like every tournament I went into, I had a chance to win on Sunday,' she said last month. 'That excitement was the best. Almost winning, it gave me a lot of confidence. It was the first time for me, really, having a chance to win.'
Now, she's not even close.
She has averaged 79 in her last three men's events. Against the women, she has failed to break par in her last eight rounds.
And the schedule doesn't allow for her confidence to be replenished any time soon. When she starts next year on the LPGA Tour in February, Wie will have played only five times in a six-month stretch, four of those against the men.
Physically, the culprit has been her driver. Wie plans to spend two weeks with David Leadbetter in Orlando, Fla., before starting next season at the Sony Open. The rest of her schedule has not been determined, but it's not too late to consider the LPGA as a home base, as much for her image as her psyche.
As a rookie, she would have to play only 10 tournaments to keep her membership -- two more than she played this year, which would mean two fewer against the men.
What likely will keep her from joining now is her senior year of high school; Wie only played four times during the spring semester this year, and one of those weeks was spring break. And some of the best LPGA events are in the spring, such as Phoenix, Kingsmill and Orlando.
The only downside would be giving up some of the appearance money. The LPGA Tour allows its members two releases a year to play overseas, where Wie commands as much as $1.5 million. Considering her total income this year was about $20 million, she can afford it.
What she can't afford are more wipeouts.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Getty Images

Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

Getty Images

Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

Getty Images

Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”