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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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.