Wie Building Her Legend with Small Victories

By Associated PressMay 16, 2006, 4:00 pm
In a span of 12 hours, Michelle Wie made headlines in three parts of the world stretching across 12 time zones.
 
She accepted an invitation to play the Omega Masters in Switzerland, which will make her the first woman to compete in a continental European PGA Tour event. A few hours later, the 16-year-old received a special exemption to the U.S. Women's Open in Newport, R.I., which is sure to infuriate Morgan Pressel and others who believe she should have had to qualify.
 
And to complete this manic Monday, Wie made history as the first woman to advance to the final stage of U.S. Open qualifying.
 
Ever the drama queen, Wie was headed toward a double bogey on the 17th hole at Turtle Bay in Honolulu when she hooked her tee shot so far left into the trees that she hit a provisional. Someone found her ball, she managed to chip out sideways, then fired a 6-iron from 170 yards into 5 feet to escape with par. She wound up with an even-par 72 and was a medalist.
 
How to celebrate such an eventful Monday?

By cracking open the books, not a bottle of bubbly.
 
'She missed school today,' said her father, B.J. Wie. 'She started doing a lot of homework right after we came back from qualifying.'
 
The father turned pages in two books of his own. One was a calendar, the other was a road map.
 
The next stop on Wie's wild and wonderful ride is June 5 at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., site of the 36-hole sectional qualifier where she will compete against dozens of PGA Tour players for a spot in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Then she heads south to Bulle Rock outside Baltimore for the LPGA Championship, which starts June 8.
 
'I think we're going to leave home on the 28th of May and fly to Baltimore and practice there for three days,' her father said. 'Then Thursday morning, fly to New Jersey and practice Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, nine holes each day to save her energy. It sounds like a lot, but she can handle it. She amazes me.'
 
Wie has been doing that for some time.
 
For those who say she needs to win, Wie has redefined winning without hoisting a trophy.
 
She didn't win the Sony Open, but her 68 in the second round at age 14 was the lowest score ever shot by a female on a men's tour. She didn't win the U.S. Amateur Public Links -- or a trip to the Masters that came with it -- but she reached the quarterfinals last summer and kept everyone watching and wondering.
 
Along the way, these 'victories' have turned her into the biggest attraction in women's golf, and probably the third-biggest draw in all of golf behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Name another player capable of spiking ticket sales or TV ratings.
 
Against women, winning now seems to be a matter of when, not if.
 
In her only two LPGA Tour events this year, she missed a playoff by one shot both times, one of those tournaments a major. That's what led to her free pass to the U.S. Women's Open. Had she been an LPGA Tour member -- the tour has a minimum age limit of 18 -- Wie would be No. 16 on the money list after two tournaments. The top 35 are exempt to the Women's Open.
 
Keep in mind that her two LPGA events were five weeks apart. It will be easier to gauge Wie's progress this summer when she plays eight times in 15 weeks -- make that nine tournaments if she somehow qualifies for Winged Foot.
 
The U.S. Open, however, remains a dream.
 
The other development Monday is more of a reality.
 
Get used to Wie accepting exemptions to tournaments in Europe and elsewhere. By the time 2006 is over, she will have competed on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European PGA Tour, Asian Tour and the Japan PGA Tour. About the only other golfer who keeps that kind of itinerary is Ernie Els.
 
'Me and my dad were kind of joking that we're basically playing on all tours this year,' she said. 'I think it's awesome. It's always what I wanted to do.'
 
B.J. Wie first shared this vision at the start of the 2005 season. The plan was for her to become a global icon in golf, which she is now. He could see his daughter playing a men's or women's event in Europe, some in Asia. Most of her events would be on the LPGA Tour, but that doesn't mean she has to join. Wie gets a maximum of eight exemptions on the LPGA; given her global travels, that's all she needs.
 
Take a close look at 2006.
 
Her 14 tournaments include eight on the LPGA Tour, three on the PGA Tour, one each in Japan, Europe and South Korea. She made the cut for the first time against the men at the SK Telecom Open two weeks ago in South Korea.
 
'I think we are following that blueprint,' B.J. Wie said. 'She likes it. The trip to Korea was fantastic. It was so much fun. As long as she has good health and good motivation, she wants to travel around the world like a global player, like Ernie Els.'
 
Wie will be under far greater scrutiny, but she has shown an amazing capacity to handle it.
 
Some will complain Wie is taking a spot away from someone trying to make a living, and that is sure to come up at the 84 Lumber Classic in September as the PGA Tour season enters its final two months and players are trying to keep their cards. But if a guy can't earn one of the 140 or so spots in a tournament, he has no one to blame but himself. As much as the PGA Tour is charging title sponsors these days, the sponsors have a right to invite someone who will help them sell tickets.
 
Winning the local qualifier for the U.S. Open will keep Wie in the news for the next three weeks. No one expects her to make it. But no one can be sure what will happen.
 
These small victories only make her more popular in any time zone.
 
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”