Love of the game: Wie a factor once again

By Randall MellJune 28, 2017, 3:00 pm

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Michelle Wie still loves the game.

She may be one of golf’s great mysteries, but that’s what cuts through the fog when you sort through all the riddles in all the twists and turns in a career that makes the 27-year-old seem like she has been around forever.

Wie is the broken player who is putting herself back together yet again.

How is she managing to do it once more? She loves the game. It’s the only explanation.

“You have to hand it to her,” said David Leadbetter, her long-time swing coach. “She’s gutted it out through all the difficult times. She’s hung in there through all the injuries, through all the criticism that so many nasty people have thrown at her, when she could very easily have just chucked in the towel and said ‘This isn’t fun anymore. This isn’t worth it anymore. I’ve got enough money, what the hell am I doing?’ She’s a fighter, she really is.”

Wie arrives for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club this week as a threat to win.

That’s a head scratcher when you think back to a year ago and the awful slump she was mired in when she arrived at this championship. She shot 78 and 80 to miss the cut at Sahalee and left the Great Northwest looking totally lost. She left looking as if she might finally be broken for good.


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Wie missed the cut or withdrew in 10 of 12 events last summer.

Just look at her now.

You can’t knock this woman out.

Up off the mat, Wie’s radiating with renewed confidence.

With her final-round 64 Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas championship, Wie tied for fourth. The week before that, she tied for second at the Meijer Classic. The week before that, she tied for third at the ShopRite Classic.

That’s four finishes of T-4 or better now in her last five starts.

“I came into this year really motivated, but feeling like I had nothing to lose,” Wie told GolfChannel.com after hitting balls on the range Tuesday at Olympia Fields.

This is starting to feel like that roll Wie got on before she won twice in 2014, before she won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.

“She’s seeing results, and she’s really getting some confidence,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think she’s far away from winning. I really don’t. She’s got her game to where she could really do some damage the second half of this season.”

Wie’s heating up at the right time with three majors over the next six weeks and with the Solheim Cup just eight weeks away.

“This year just felt like a fresh start,” Wie said.

What has fueled this latest resurgence?

Three things stand out.

*Wie is healthy.

*She has found and grooved a dependable stock fade.

*She has completely turned around her putting with an on-again, off-again claw grip.

Wie used to like to hit her irons with a fairly straight ball flight, while hitting a draw with her driver. Now, she hits a fade nearly all the time, with her irons and woods.

“I’ve been a streaky player in the past, so I was just trying to find more consistency, to be able to hit more fairways when I needed to,” Wie said.

She actually found the fade last season.

“I changed to it last year, which I think is a reason I struggled,” said Wie, a four-time LPGA winner. “Anytime you try to change your ball flight, it takes time.”

Wie ditched her unorthodox table-top putting stance after missing the cut in the season opener in the Bahamas this year. She said she hit the ball great there but putted awfully. Frustrated, she sought out Leadbetter at the Honda Classic near her home in Jupiter, coaxing him away from the PGA Tour pros to go work with her at the Bear’s Club.

“That was the turning point for me,” Wie said.

That’s where Leadbetter made a radical suggestion.

“He proposed I putt with the claw grip,” Wie said. “It’s funny how things work with David and I, how he will suggest something that I’ve been thinking about.

“I tinkered around with it, and it felt good.”

As is Wie’s way, she has tinkered with Leadbetter’s suggestion, putting her own distinctive signature on the claw.

At first, she went all claw, with a Sergio-style claw grip. Then she modified it, going to a version of a claw setup. She would set up with the claw grip, then move her hand back to a conventional grip just before taking the putter back. The key to that move was keeping her elbow bent as if she was still in the claw grip.

“With the conventional grip, she kept her elbow bent as if she was still in the claw grip, almost like a violinist, working back and forth on a constant plane and arc,” Leadbetter said.

Today, Wie still has some weird science working for her, and she’s OK with that. Now, she’s setting up consistently in the claw grip, sometimes making the stroke with it, sometimes moving back into a conventional grip, just before taking the putter back.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Leadbetter said. “She says her brain tells her what’s comfortable when she’s about to make the stroke, and she just goes with it.”

Lydia Ko used to alternate her grips during a round, going from left-hand low to conventional. She would go left-hand low for shorter putts, conventional for longer putts.

Wie confirms it doesn’t work like that for her.

“I make my decision as I’m over the ball,” Wie said. “I call it the ‘Whatever System.’ But I feel great about it.”

Leadbetter likes Wie’s consistent upright posture and stance, whether she goes claw or not.

“Putting is such a catalyst to everything,” Leadbetter said. “Look, you can hit the ball great, but if you can’t capitalize on the shot you hit ... She’s making putts, and she’s making lengthy putts.”

Leadbetter knows he may never cure Wie of her love of tinkering, but he also knows that’s how her creative mind works. It keeps her loving the game.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.