Wie battling injuries, new swing as she defends Open

By Randall MellJuly 7, 2015, 12:30 pm

Michelle Wie can tell you a lot about the Harton S. Semple Trophy that you didn’t know.

She can tell you the lid on the trophy makes a snappy party hat.

She can tell you sangria tastes better when it’s served from the trophy.

“Kind of used it as a punch bowl,” Wie said.

She can also tell you the trophy holds 21½ beers.

If the U.S. Women’s Open trophy could talk, it could tell some colorful stories about its year with Wie, who claimed the trophy winning the championship at Pinehurst. The trophy could tell you about her victory party, about how Wie’s upside-down twerking as a victory dance became a viral YouTube hit.

“That trophy had a lot of fun,” Wie told GolfChannel.com as she prepares to defend her title this week at the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club, 80 miles west of Philadelphia.

Wie, 25, eagerly shared her delight as the trophy’s winner with friends and supporters. She also honored it with a “prime spot” in her home in Jupiter, Fla. She set it up on a coffee table where she could see it as much as possible.

“It was a constant reminder to me every time I walked past it,” Wie said.

Her swing coach, David Leadbetter, can tell you exactly what the trophy reminded Wie of, because he knew what hoisting it for the first time meant to her as he watched the trophy presentation on the 18th green at Pinehurst.


Photos: Images from the 2014 U.S. Women's Open

“I’ll always remember how happy she looked with the trophy,” Leadbetter said. “I’ll remember the joy, the great smile, how ecstatic she was. It was like she was able to actually hold something in her hands that showed, ‘Hey, I’m not just a child prodigy. All the hard work, all the sacrifices, all the down times, they were all worth it.’ It was heartwarming seeing that.”

Wie’s victories last year at the Lotte Championship in her Hawaiian home and at the U.S. Women’s Open were transforming. She rewrote her story. She went from cautionary tale, the can’t-miss kid struggling to live up to all her promise, to a completely different narrative. Suddenly, she was an inspirational tale of perseverance. She was the broken player who put herself back together. She won her first major championship after multiple injuries, swoons, slumps and unrelenting criticism made it look like she would never win one.

Wie emerged early last year playing the best golf of her life.

Her run from the Kraft Nabisco, where she lost to Lexi Thompson in a final-round duel in the year’s first major, through her U.S. Women’s Open victory, held a new kind of promise. Wie racked up eight top-10 finishes over nine starts that included two victories, a second and two third-place finishes.

Wie left Pinehurst looking capable of becoming the best player in the women’s game. With her driver working, with her putting better than ever, she was a force in the first two majors of the year.

“It’s definitely the most consistent I’ve ever played,” Wie said. “And that was my goal at the beginning of the year, to be consistent.”

Wie arrives at Lancaster Country Club this week with all that momentum lost. She is far from the splendid form she took into last year’s U.S. Women’s Open. She has missed the cut or withdrawn from three of her last four starts. She doesn’t have a top-10 finish this year.

Once more, Wie looks like a broken player trying to put herself back together again.

“It’s definitely been frustrating,” Wie said. “There have been things I haven’t been able to control this year, a series of unfortunate events. But at the same time, they’re things that make me a stronger person, that make me believe harder and work harder.”

Wie started this year grinding through the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic with what she thought was the flu. It turned out to be strep throat, which then morphed into a sinus infection during the Asian swing.

Now, she’s rebounding from a hip injury that forced her into an emergency overhaul of her swing.

“It’s been frustrating for everybody,” Leadbetter said. “We looked at last year as a springboard to some really great stuff, but it hasn’t happened. It’s been a sort of ho-hum year, nothing really exciting going on. But, I think she’s handling it all really well. She just needs to find a little spark to get her going. If anyone can find it, it’s Michelle.”

Over the last six weeks, Leadbetter and trainer David Donatucci have been scrambling to help Wie rebuild her body and swing. She’s playing with a new, significantly narrower stance designed to alleviate stress on her left hip, knee and ankle.

“I know some people think she’s making too much of it, but she really was hurt,” Leadbetter said. “When you have pain, when your body is in a state of disrepair, it’s difficult to fight your way through it. The golf swing is tough enough when the body’s completely healthy.”

Wie withdrew after the first round of the Kingsmill Championship in the middle of May with pain in her left hip. It was diagnosed as bursitis, an inflammation of the joint, a malady caused by wear and tear over time.

Wie teed it up in her next start at the ShopRite Classic two weeks later with the new, narrower stance.

“The stance is a little different, the movement is a little different and the swing plane is a lot better,” Donatucci said. “She was so wide in the path, the only thing her body could really do is move left, and move left violently.”

At 6 feet, with her long arms and legs, Wie was generating a lot of power with a compact swing. She won the U.S. Women’s Open winding powerfully around hips that barely seemed to rotate on the backswing.

“Although in many respects that swing was pretty sound mechanically, it was very short and very tight and very wound up,” Leadbetter said. “It was creating a lot of stress on her joints. We had to make a compromise. She’s gone back to a narrower stance, to really encourage more of a rotation in the swing, which has gotten the swing a little longer.”

Wie’s swing is looking more like it did when she was a teen phenom, but it’s not quite the same. Leadbetter says Wie’s stance at its widest now is a foot more narrow than it was last year.

“That’s quite substantial,” he said.

Donatucci said all the power Wie generated with her tightly wound swing raced into her left side in a jarring finish. There were signs of trouble even at the U.S. Women’s Open last year, when Wie wore supportive tape around her left knee. Since Kingsmill, she has been wearing tape and a brace on her left ankle.

“She was utilizing her left knee, her left ankle and the outside of her hip to slow down the swing speed,” Donatucci said. “We’re hoping this narrowing of the stance, where she can rotate the hips a lot better, will allow the back of the hip, the butt and the glutes to really be able to absorb the majority of that speed, to help slow her down and decrease the pounding and pressure that’s occurring on the outside of that hip.”

Donatucci said the new swing should help keep Wie from snapping and hyper extending her left knee in her finish.

“I used to be so flexible,” Wie said. “But I’m not as limber as I was when I was 16. This is helping me relax my hips, move them better. When I do it right, and relax my hips, I can swing pretty much pain free.”

Wie has had a cortisone shot and two platelet-rich-plasma injections over the last month or so getting herself ready to defend her title. She has monitored her diet, reducing foods that exacerbate inflammation.

“The pain’s definitely getting better,” Wie said. “I’ve been feeling better and better every week, and I’m excited to play.”

The real challenge has been overhauling Wie’s swing with practice time limited by the injury, but Wie has one advantage other players don’t this week. She has the memory of last year’s U.S. Women’s Open victory emboldening her. Specifically, she has the memory of last year’s late bounce back, when she went from looking as if she were blowing the Open with a double bogey at the 16th hole in the final round to securing the title with a terrific birdie at the 17th.

Those two holes were a perfect microcosm of Wie’s entire career.

“What happened at the 16th and 17th, those are memories I use even to this day, to remind myself how to handle situations,” Wie said. “Keep calm, always have faith, don’t think too hard in the future. I definitely use those memories as inspiration and motivation. It gives me confidence.”

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.