Wie's unorthodox approach paying dividends

By Randall MellJune 29, 2017, 10:00 pm

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Michelle Wie is the rebel with a cause now.

“She has never been orthodox,” says David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

With a new putting style that borders on  multiple personality disorder, with her quirky pre-shot routines and now her unusually configured golf bag, Wie may be the LPGA’s most unorthodox player.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s working.

Somehow, some wacky way, it’s turning her around.

“It’s not pretty,” said Stacy Lewis, who played alongside Wie. “But it is working.”

Wie’s 3-under-par 68 Thursday put her into early contention at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, just two shots behind Chella Choi, the early leader.

Wie is finding her game with a hodge-podge of inventive technique and strategies. In some ways, Leadbetter said, she’s actually finding herself in this unconventional approach.

“Michelle has always had a unique way of going about things,” Leadbetter said.

Think Lonzo Ball’s quirky shooting form, Hideo Nomo’s eccentric pitching delivery, Rick Barry’s unconventional granny-style free throws and Dick Fosbury’s flop. They are all Wie’s kind of athletes.

“I’m just like, `This feels right, and I go with it,’” Wie said.

Wie’s tabletop putting stance was the oddest in golf last year. While her new stance looks so much more fundamentally sound now, her use of multiple grips is weird science.

Or, given Wie’s love of painting, maybe weird art.

Wie used at least three different putting grips Thursday in her round of five birdies and two bogeys on a windswept Olympia Fields Country Club course playing difficult.

She putted with the claw, she putted left-hand low and she putted conventional.

There might have been a couple more she improvised.

“I don’t know,” Wie said. “Don’t try to figure it out. It will be really hard.”

Wie’s bag was also unusually configured for a big hitter. She also stuck an 11-wood in it before the round.

“I told her she has more head covers in her bag now than Mi Hyun Kim ever did,” Leadbetter cracked.


KPMG Women’s PGA Championship: Articles, photos and videos


But Leadbetter’s loving this.

“You can’t explain this to somebody,” Leadbetter said. “It wouldn’t make sense.”

The scorecards are adding up quite nicely, though.

After slumping through her worst year in eight seasons as a pro, Wie is making yet another comeback this season. She arrived this week as one of the favorites. She shot 64 last Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and tied for fourth. She tied for second in her start before that and tied for third the week before that.

“I kind of was sick of playing bad golf, honestly,” Wie said of her resurgence this season. “I was just sick of being down, and really started this year with a really good sense of determination and motivation. It's a long time to be out there to be miserable. So I just kind of made a pact with myself that I'm going to have fun, and if I hit a bad shot, brush it off.”

Wie is in early position to try to add a second major championship to her resume. She’s looking to win for the first time since she claimed the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst three years ago.

Wie’s success isn’t coming just from her improved putting. It’s coming from consistent ball striking. Wie attributes this to the new, more consistent fade she’s grooving.

Lewis marveled over what she was seeing. Well, what she dared to watch.

“I did not watch a lot of her shots,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t help you to see those kind of shots, but she is believing in what she is doing, and she’s hitting good shots, and she’s hitting it the same every time. That’s what good golf is.”

Lewis called Wie’s new shot shape more of a big cut than a fade.

Lewis was asked if she saw all the different putting grips Wie has used.

“There’s different everything,” but it is working,” Lewis said.

Wie says the left-to-right ball flight is helping her hit more fairways. It has also helped her eliminate two-way misses. She is basically taking trouble on the left out of play.

Wie was counting on this improved control in helping her in major championships.

“Knowing where the ball isn’t going to go is as important as knowing where it’s going to go in this game.” Leadbetter said.

Wie hit 12 of 14 fairways Thursday, and she hit 14 greens in regulation.

“Michelle likes to go at the ball hard,” Leadbetter said. “The great thing is hitting this fade allows her to be very aggressive. That fits her personality.”

And so do all the unorthodox ideas.

Getty Images

Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

Getty Images

With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

Getty Images

Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

Getty Images

Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”


Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”