Wie: 'Starting second part of my career' at just 24

By Will GrayJune 17, 2014, 4:29 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Many golfers can tell you about their renaissance.

That point in time at which things began to click, when a game that had seemed so difficult for so long suddenly felt easy again. When the hours spent on the range finally began to translate into results on the course.

Few if any, though, can tell you about such a rebirth at age 24. Then there’s Michelle Wie.

Although she still has to pay a little extra when renting a car, Wie is making her 11th appearance in the U.S. Women’s Open this week. She’s been playing in the USGA’s marquee event for nearly as long as Lucy Li has been alive, and Wie has been on the national radar even longer.

Her prominence in the game has been debated for years, often seen as a mixture of raw talent and marketing hype. Whatever the source, her brand-name recognition caused her recent decline to resonate more strongly, but it also created a bigger stage for her return to relevance this year.

Arriving to Pinehurst No. 2 with unbridled confidence, Wie believes her renaissance is underway.

“I really feel like I’m kind of starting the second part of my career,” Wie said Tuesday. “I think a golf career, you’re going to have ups, you’re going to have downs. It’s not a short career, it’s a very long career. I’m in it for the long run.”

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She would know better than most about both the ups and the downs. At just 16 years old, she was ranked third when the initial Rolex Rankings were published in 2006, but watched as her performance began to fade and her spot in the standings followed suit. Just last year, she was outside the top 100. And Wie was ranked 80th in the world when Meg Mallon surprised many by adding her to the Solheim Cup team last summer.

Since then, though, she has turned things around in a hurry and enters this week with a rare asset: results.

Hardly seen as a consistent player, Wie has been just that this year on the LPGA tour, with eight top-10 finishes in 12 starts highlighted by a runner-up finish at the season’s first major and a win at the LPGA Lotte Championship, the third of her career and first in her native Hawaii.

After beginning the year ranked 61st, Wie has rocketed all the way to 11th in the world heading into the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I’m just having a lot of fun playing,” she said. “I feel that I came into the year saying that I want to be more consistent and I feel like I’m kind of on track.”

The evolution is clear, even to some of her closest competitors.

"It's like she's a different person," said world No. 2 Stacy Lewis. "She's grown up, she's taken ownership of her game. Her relationship with her parents and her family is so much better. She's out there calling the shots instead of the other way around, and it's great to see because she's playing golf and having fun with it."

One of the longer hitters on the LPGA for the past several years, Wie drew some questions, if not a few snickers, when she switched to her current “table top” putting style, with her back arched at nearly a 90 degree angle.

While her style certainly appears unorthodox, a funny thing has happened: since the switch, her putting has gotten better – a lot better – and the results have followed.

“My putting stance is kind of what I feel comfortable with,” said Wie, who ranks fourth on the LPGA in putts per GIR this year after finishing 119th in the same category in 2012. “I think I still need to get better, but I think I’m definitely on the right track. It may look funny, but it feels good to me.”

Wie held the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2005 before a final-round 82, then tied for third the following year. Since then, though, she has struggled in this event, making the cut only twice and finishing no better than a tie for 35th in 2012.

While she is playing some of the best golf of her career, she admits that there is more on the line this week than usual.

“I get really excited for the U.S. Opens and I try not to put so much pressure on myself, but I always end up doing so,” Wie said.

Coping with added pressure, especially on a course as demanding as Pinehurst No. 2, seems like a difficult proposition. But Wie now carries with her more experience than most in this week’s field, a fact that belies her relative youth.

During her press conference, Wie was asked about the athletic tape she wore during her practice round, which she is using to treat what she described as a minor, though nagging, knee injury.

“I just feel like I’m getting old,” she said. “I’m not 13 anymore and tapeless.”

The statement encapsulates Wie’s unique position within the women’s game: a seasoned veteran, but still viewed as a rising star. An established player, but one that may just now be tapping into her potential.

At 24, Wie is embarking on a new chapter in her career, one that has defied convention for more than a decade. With a win this week at Pinehurst, the theme of that story could take yet another dramatic shift.

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.