PINEHURST, N.C. – Michelle Wie still knows how to cram for an exam.
Two years after getting her diploma from Stanford, Wie is showing she’s still quite the student.
Throwing open all the yardage books she collected from the men after last week’s U.S. Open, Wie combed through them as if they were textbooks. She used them extensively as she prepared for Thursday’s start of the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I did a lot of homework,” Wie said. “I think it's the most homework I've ever done on a golf course.”
Wie aced the first-round exam that Pinehurst No. 2 threw at her. She shot a 2-under-par 68 that vaulted her up the leaderboard, just a shot behind the leader, Stacy Lewis, in the suspended opening round.
“She’s got a really good gameplan,” said David Leadbetter, Wie’s swing coach. “This is a golf course you really have to think your way around, really manage your game. She knows where she wants to hit it every hole.”
Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley and their caddies gave Wie their yardage books, complete with notes. Wie cross-referenced yardages and notes.
“Kind of color-coordinated everything,” Wie said.
Wie’s 68 was the best opening round she has posted in the 11 U.S. Women’s Opens she has played. It’s another big step in the rebuilding of her game, in a resurgence that included her victory at the Lotte Championship in April and her runner-up finish in the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
How good was her 68? Here’s her opening round score in the last six U.S. Women's Opens: 82, 81, 82, 78, 74, 80. Wie has only posted one score better than that 68 in any round of a U.S. Women’s Open, a 66 she shot in the second round at Blackwolf Run two years ago.
When she first stormed the women's scene as a teen phenom, she was a factor in majors. She recorded six finishes of T-5 or better in majors before she was 17.
Is she ready to do one better than her second-place finish at Kraft earlier this year?
“I don't want to think about that,” Wie said. “It's a long road until Sunday. I've had a lot of fun today. It’s great being in contention. I'm going to do my best tomorrow and see what happens. If I keep doing what I'm doing now, I'll be close, and, hopefully, I'll be there Sunday, having an opportunity. That’s really all I can ask for.”
Wie hit 10 of 14 fairways in the first round. She pounded her driver around Pinehurst No. 2. Leadbetter estimated she hit it nine times.
Wie’s iron play wasn’t as sharp. She hit just 10 greens in regulation but scrambled impressively in a round of five birdies and three bogeys. Her putting, with that unorthodox “table-top” stance, was the key to the round. She holed a 15-foot putt to save par at the 17th, and then closed by making a 5-foot birdie putt.
“She holed some really good putts,” Leadbetter said.
Coming into this week, Wie made an adjustment to her putter. She had the lie flattened by 4½ degrees, according to Leadbetter.
“She’s feeling more comfortable,” Leadbetter said.
While Leadbetter loves the control Wie is showing with her ball striking, with her ability to use spin and trajectory for distance control, he really loves what he’s seeing in Wie’s eyes.
“She’s worked so hard to give herself these chances,” Leadbetter said. “Her whole demeanor is different now. She’s smiling, she’s happy and she’s having fun.”
And she’s contending.