Wie all the buzz at LPGA Tour Championship


LPGA Tour _newRICHMOND, Texas – Michelle Wie’s focus was challenged during her hour-long practice Tuesday after her arrival for the LPGA Tour championship.

That’s because so many players kept stopping by to offer congratulations at The Houstonian Golf & Country Club.

Wie’s breakthrough victory Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico was all the buzz at the season-ending event.

Her swing coach, David Leadbetter, relished the interruptions because he remembers not so long ago when Wie wasn’t embraced upon arriving for LPGA events.

“Michelle’s really, really at home out here now,” Leadbetter said. “She really feels like she belongs and doesn’t feel like, well, almost a leper out here, which is the way it was at one stage. There was so much criticism. It’s really hard for a young person to take so much criticism and perform. She’s really very popular now.”

Wie was literally embraced after she walked onto the property Tuesday.

“I couldn’t wait to give her a hug,” LPGA veteran Lorie Kane said.

Leadbetter also relished seeing Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lincicome wait around after Wie won Sunday to douse Wie in a cocktail fizz because he knew how hard Wie had worked to claim her first victory. Though she’s a rookie, Wie won in her 65th LPGA start. She won a month after her 20th birthday with critics wondering if she would ever win.

“It was a huge, huge cross to bear,” Leadbetter said.

Val Skinner, the six-time LPGA winner, said she couldn’t help fighting back tears watching Wie close out Sunday’s victory while working as a Golf Channel analyst.

“I felt the release for her, of finally getting the 7,000-pound gorilla off her back,” Skinner said.

Craig Castrale, husband and caddie to Nicole Castrale, couldn’t help noticing the play the LPGA got among other major sports on Sunday night sports/news telecasts.

“They showed highlights of Michelle Wie winning before they showed the highlights of Tiger Woods winning on ESPN 'SportsCenter,” Castrale said.

Wie arrived for the LPGA Tour Championship on Monday, but she didn’t come out to the golf course until Tuesday morning. She worked on her short game with Leadbetter and hit some full shots but did not play. Her left ankle’s still bothering her, but she said she expects to be ready to go when play begins on Thursday. She sprained the ankle during the Solheim Cup in August and re-injured it stepping into a hole at the Navistar Classic during the first week of October.

“I’m feeling confident, I’m feeling good,” Wie said in the clubhouse after practicing. “Whatever happens, I’m just going to try my hardest and try to play my best.”

Wie’s walk through the clubhouse was like a victory parade with players, fans and volunteers offering congratulations.

“It’s been crazy,” Wie said. “It’s a lot of fun, but my focus is on this week. I want to play even better.”

Wie’s victory was emotional. She said she cried after hitting her bunker shot at the final hole to less than a foot to secure Sunday’s victory. With so many fans watching to see if she can win again this week, there’s a danger of an emotional letdown, but there’s also the benefit of confidence and momentum gained.

“My golf game is only going to get better from here,” Wie said.

That’s the expectation on tour.

“I think the floodgates are going to open,” LPGA veteran Laura Davies said.

Davies isn’t alone.

“We knew she was going to win before too long,” Pressel said. “She’s too good a player to be out here and not win.”

Pressel and Wie have forged a friendship since Wie gained her LPGA membership at Q-School last year and joined the tour full time.

“Michelle’s created a buzz with her win,” Pressel said. “You knew it was going to happen. I’m glad for her, that she doesn’t have that cloud hanging over her head anymore. Maybe she can get back to just playing golf.”

Lincicome believes what is good for Wie is good for the LPGA.

“The better she does, the more exposure we all get,” Lincicome said. “We are all rooting for her. We are obviously trying to promote our tour to be the best we can be. If that’s her playing well, or Paula Creamer, we are rooting for them to do well.”