Big changes lead to Wie's breakthrough win

By Randall MellJune 23, 2014, 12:45 am

PINEHURST, N.C. – Michelle Wie didn’t just give us a defining moment Sunday in her breakthrough victory in a major championship.

Her U.S. Women’s Open victory was too massive in importance to the women’s game to be contained in a single moment.

No, she gave us a pair of poignant bookend moments that served as the perfect microcosm of her golfing life. She did so in the pivotal turn of fortune at the 16th and 17th holes.

The 16th is where the game knocked her down, and the 17th is where she got up off the mat and threw the knockout punch that won her first major championship.

The 16th is where it looked as if she was going to fail to deliver on all the promise she built in a Sunday of masterful course management. It’s where she pushed a shot right of the green and nearly lost it in a thick patch of wire grass. It’s where a frantic scramble finally ended with the discovery of her embedded ball.

An unplayable lie, a penalty drop and a double bogey left Wie with a slim one-shot lead on Rolex world No. 1 Stacy Lewis, who was in the clubhouse looking as if she just might already have one hand on the Harton S. Semple trophy.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, videos and photos

Wie, though, followed with the most thrilling birdie of her life at the par-3 17th, rolling in a 25-foot putt that ignited a roar echoing beyond the entire village of Pinehurst and into every corner of women’s golf.

“She shook off what happened at the 16th pretty quickly,” said Duncan French, her caddie. “It was a massive bounce back.”

With a two-putt for par at the last, Wie brought home a two-shot victory over Lewis.

“That’s Michelle,” Lewis said. “She’s a fighter. She never gives up.”

And that’s really the story of more than Sunday’s victory for Wie.

“I’m so happy I can’t think straight,” Wie said.

Wie, 24, almost won one of these trophies when she was 16, but the can’t-miss prodigy did miss more than anyone thought as an embattled teen phenom growing up.

All the promise she showed contending in women’s majors before she could even drive a car got lost in a series of disappointing turns. There were injuries. There was a broken wrist, a severe ankle sprain and bulging disc in her back. There was lost confidence when her swing went awry in bad habits trying to play through injury.

Through it all, there was suffocating scrutiny, escalating pressure and unrelenting criticism of her parents’ intense involvement in every facet of her game.

Wie said all of that made Sunday so much more meaningful.

“I think life is just so ironic," Wie said. "I think that without your downs, without the hardships, I don't think you appreciate the ups as much as you do. I think the fact that I struggled so much, the fact that I kind of went through a hard period of my life, the fact that this trophy is right next to me, it means so much more to me than it ever would have when I was 15.

“I learned a lot. I am just so grateful for that, just because of everything I've been through. I feel extremely lucky.”

A little more than a year ago, Wie had plummeted to No. 100 in the Rolex world rankings. She’ll jump to No. 7 this week, thanks to her second victory of the season.

While Lewis might be the best player in the women’s game, Wie is the biggest star. Her resurging status is good for the sport. She brings more eyeballs to the TV and more spectators to tournaments. Her peers get this.

“Michelle Wie winning, I don't think you can script it any better,” Lewis said. “I think it's great for the game of golf. I think it's even better for women's golf.”

Wie could easily have lost this championship with the errant approach at the 16th. Her heart and spirit were tested as much as her skill.

“I learned from the past, in those situations,” Wie said. “For sure, you can go down the road and go, `Oh, my God, I'm going to make a triple. I'm going to make a quadruple. What's going to happen? I'm going to lose the U.S. Open.’ I just shut that off. And I'm just really proud of myself for being able to do that.”

Wie might remember the 16th as the best double bogey of her life. She had to make a nervy 5-foot putt to keep a one-shot lead on Lewis.

“I think the thing I’m most proud of is that I just didn’t let it get away from me,” Wie said.

Wie won this championship long before she got here.

She won it taking charge of her game inside and outside the ropes. She won it going to an unorthodox “table-top” putting stroke that nobody outside her family seemed to like. She won it taking the reins of her career away from her parents. Back at the season opener in the Bahamas, she traveled to a tournament for the first time without her parents.

“Sometimes, she rebels,” David Leadbetter, her swing coach, told back in February after the season opener. “She’s a young woman now, and she has demanded more freedom.”

Leadbetter predicted a rebirth for Wie back then, the start of what would be remembered as her second career.

Lewis saw it, and so did other players. She saw it in the way Wie stuck with her unorthodox putting stroke. She saw it in the way she was handling her parents. She saw it in the way she blocks out all the scrutiny and criticism she gets.

“I think it’s the way she can make decisions without caring what anyone thinks,” Lewis said.

Wie’s decisions are carrying her back to the top of her sport, and a lot of people who love the women’s game believe she can take the rest of women’s golf to heights it has never been.

Getty Images

Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

Getty Images

Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm