Wie Making Fitness a Priority

By Associated PressJanuary 11, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Sony OpenHONOLULU -- For a girl with such grandiose dreams, even Michelle Wie thought the bar was set too high.
It was one of her first exercises late last year with Paul Gagne, a fitness guru who spends most of his time with hockey players, and the task was a simple pull-up. Wie jumped up to grab the bar, and her 6-foot frame dangled in the air for a few seconds before she tried to lift herself. She barely moved a few inches.
When the workout was over, Wie said she was so sore she couldn't lift her arms to wash her hair in the shower.
'It was way too painful,' she said. 'My New Year's Resolution is to cut down on sugar and not be as lazy. That means going to the gym a lot more. My goal is to get fit, get stronger and prevent injury.'
Her ultimate goal remains the same - to play golf against the best in the world.
The next chance comes Thursday in the Sony Open, the first full-field event on the PGA Tour where Wie has become a regular fixture. It will be her seventh time competing against the men, and fourth time on the PGA Tour as she tries to become the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to make the cut.
But the junior at nearby Punahou School no longer emphasizes getting to the weekend. The older she gets, the farther along in her unique journey, she has paid less attention to results and more on hitting the right shots.
How does she measure success?
'If at the end of the week I felt good about the week, I had a lot of fun and I played as hard as I can,' she said.
Her newfound dedication to fitness is one example of Wie seeing a bigger picture.
Swing coach David Leadbetter said her upper body strength was woefully lacking, and he brought in Gagne for help. In the last few months, he said Wie has increased her ball speed about 5 mph to 161 mph, which he compared favorably with the 166 mph ball speed of Justin Rose.
Wie has added about eight pounds of muscle, which Leadbetter says has given her more strength to hold the club in the proper position at the top of the swing.
'Look at what strength training did for Annika (Sorenstam),' Leadbetter said. 'Michelle tended to shy away from it. But once we pointed out the benefits, it's a full program she has to work on. When you've got the talent she has, it's a matter of getting your ducks in a row. She's game for it. She's starting to enjoy it.'
Even so, Wie will be measured this week by the scores on her card, and whether she finishes among the top 70 players and ties over the first two rounds.
The defending champion is Vijay Singh, and the field includes three-time Mercedes Championships winner Stuart Appleby, Mike Weir, David Toms and Adam Scott.
Scott finished behind her two years ago and paid dearly. When he got to Bay Hill, swing coach Butch Harmon had plastered pictures of Wie inside his locker.
'It's a big week for us, a big week for me,' Scott said with a smile. 'Two years ago she almost made it. If she putts really well, she can make the cut.'
Even so, the novelty is wearing off the more she plays, and the older she gets.
Three players at the Sony Open have never played a PGA Tour event, having earned their way through qualifying school. Wie already has played four tour events, and dozens of rounds at Waialae getting ready for this week.
'I was expecting a good player, but not a seasoned player,' said Sean O'Hair, the PGA Tour rookie of the year, after playing a practice round with Wie on Tuesday. 'She seems like she's been doing this a while.'
She has.
Mark Calcavecchia is among those who wonder why she doesn't concentrate more on the LPGA Tour, where she had three runner-up finishes last year, two of them in majors. He doesn't mind her playing the Sony Open, because Wie grew up in Honolulu and is a huge draw this week.
'I think she should try to win some LPGA tournaments first and go from there,' he said.
These are suggestions Wie has heard before, and she's not about to change. Now that she's a pro, she might add two more PGA Tour events this year.
'Playing with the guys has made me a better player,' she said. 'With that experience and knowledge, I think it will help me win women's events. That's my goal - to win with the women's events.'
Leadbetter wouldn't put a timetable on when that might happen, although the sooner the better. The last time Wie hoisted a trophy was as a 13-year-old at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. He said one problem was her schedule, which includes nine months of high school.
'You don't set the goal to win,' he said. 'You set the goal of becoming more proficient, hitting more fairways, becoming a better putter. There's no doubt she's going to win, and when she wins, she's going to win a lot.'
Meanwhile, Wie has shifted her attention to the journey instead of the score. That meant listening to her parents, which is not easy for a teenager.
'My parents would say that and I would think, 'It's the results that matter,'' she said. 'But as I get older, I'm realizing it's the road you take that's the most important thing. There is so much to learn from the guys. They have so much to offer, and I'm soaking it all in.'
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