Wie has Game Now Looks for Momentum

RSS

2006 Sony OpenHONOLULU -- Seven birdies in a record-tying round of 68 sent Michelle Wie home from the Sony Open with a smile, although it wasn't long before reality set in as she considered her immediate future.
 
She had to spend her weekend writing a paper and cramming for a math exam on Monday.
 
What really bummed the 16-year-old out, though, was having to wait six weeks before she could play another tournament. Her father, B.J. Wie, said they have settled on the Fields Open in Hawaii, a new LPGA Tour event at Ko Olina Golf Club, which has become her home course.
 
It was a tough decision, because Wie tied for second in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay last year, and there is a strong connection with the Korean-based company. Then again, Wie has playing privileges at Ko Olina and the family is close friends with the resort owner.
 
'But if she plays both,' her father said, 'there's nothing left for us in the summer.'
 
Such is the dilemma facing Wie over her final two years of high school. She can sneak away from school four times a year to play golf, and she has all summer. But that means going more than a month at times without competition, keeping her from getting into tournament shape and staying there.

'Part of me wants to play every week,' Wie said. 'But a big part of me wants to stay at school, be normal. That's very important to me and my family for me to go to school. I'm very grateful for that. If there were more days, I would love to play week after week after week, because that's what I love to do.
 
'But I love to go to school. That's a part of my life I can't live without right now.'
 
The early part of the season has her playing the Fields Open from Feb. 23-25, then waiting five more weeks before she plays in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the LPGA season. And then it could be another five weeks before she tees it up again.
 
Sony and Nike, her two corporate sponsors, aren't pushing her to play more than about 12 times a year.
 
'That's tough, even when she's hitting it well,' swing coach David Leadbetter said. 'The momentum factor isn't there. That's going to be an issue until she finishes school. It's tough to play 12 tournaments a year and really get your game firing on all cylinders.'
 
Even in the summer, Wie is allowed only eight starts on the LPGA Tour -- six sponsor's exemptions, plus the Women's British Open and U.S. Women's Open, provided she qualifies.
 
B.J. Wie wishes there were a way she could play two more events, but isn't holding out hope. The options are to play overseas at the Casio World Open (where Wie received $1.5 million in appearance money last November) and a couple of more times on the PGA Tour, such as the John Deere Classic.
 
Meanwhile, skepticism mounts on the unique path she is taking.
 
'She's got to play more tournaments,' her father said. 'With all the criticism ... I know what they're saying. She's taking a spot in the field. It's a dilemma. But she needs the experience.'
 
Leadbetter has supervised a swing that has few flaws. Wie struggled in the opening round on her way to a 79, her highest score in eight rounds on the PGA Tour, but the mechanics never cease to impress. Playing with more freedom when it was clear she would not make the cut, Wie fired off five birdies in seven holes on her way to a 68.
 
That matched the 68 she shot in the second round at Waialae two years ago, the lowest score by a female competing on a men's tour. But this one was different.
 
Instead of making a series of long putts, Wie hit crisp irons that never strayed from the flag -- a 3-iron stinger into the wind to 15 feet on No. 11, a 9-iron to 8 feet on the 12th, a soft 7-iron that hit 2 feet behind the flag on No. 14.
 
There were the usual assortment of mistakes, and Wie struggles to make par when she's not in the fairway. What impressed her about Camilo Villegas, a dynamic rookie from Colombia, and big-hitting Chris Couch is how they could get into trouble off the tee and still make par or better.
 
That's part of the learning curve.
 
'We're never going to see what she's really capable of until she plays a bunch of tournaments in a row -- on different courses with different conditions -- on a regular basis,' Leadbetter said.
 
Putting remains the one element of her game that is holding her back, although Wie looked sharp Friday except for falling asleep on a 30-inch par putt for the second straight round.
 
Thursday afternoon, she finished her putting practice by sticking eight sets of three tees around the hole about 6 feet away, removing one tee each time she made the putt. Then her mother, Bo, sat cross-legged behind the cup as her daughter rapped in one 3-footer after another.
 
Some believe Wie would have been better off playing junior tournaments and learning to win, or at least staying on the LPGA Tour and learning to win against the best women.
 
Leadbetter argues that Wie hasn't given herself the best chance to win -- at least not yet.
 
'She doesn't play as many tournaments as other girls her age,' he said. 'I guarantee there's a lot of girls on the AJGA who play a heck of a lot more tournaments than Michelle does. But when you limit the number of tournaments you play, and you play the best men and women, your chances of winning are less.
 
'She can win with a half-set of clubs in her bag (on the AJGA). These girls are good, but this girl is special.'
 
Related Links:
  • Wie's Scorecard
  • Leaderboard - Sony Open in Hawaii
  • Full Coverage - Sony Open in Hawaii