No more tinkering with the swing.
It’s time to commit to a plan to harness all that potential and see what’s really possible.
That’s the tough love message David Leadbetter delivered to Michelle Wie when they came together at month’s start to begin preparations for the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic and this week’s opening of the LPGA season, a year they’re both hoping will be a rejuvenating bounce back from Wie’s health woes last season.
“We had a heart-to-heart talk in early January,” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com. “I was very candid with her. I’ve known Michelle half her life. I love her like a daughter, and we can say things to each other. I said, `You’ve been playing golf professionally for 10 years now, and the years are going to go more quickly from here on. Now is the time, young lady, when you need to start to show what you’re really capable of.’”
Mostly, what Leadbetter wanted from Wie, 26, was an agreement to fully commit to a swing and stick with it.
Wie’s swing has gone through more evolutions than either cares to count since they began working together when she was 13. She’s creative and imaginative, even inventive, as she has shown with her unorthodox “table-top” putting stance, which is undergoing some change now, too. She’s less hunched over the ball now, Leadbetter said. The experimenting has always been part of the fun for Wie, part of the game’s challenge. It’s also been a challenge for Leadbetter, trying to keep up.
“Michelle is the consummate tinkerer with her golf swing,” Leadbetter said. “I’ve never seen anybody in all my teaching career who is able to change her swing so drastically from almost week to week.”
Last spring, Wie did an instructional spread with Golf Magazine, breaking down her swing. Leadbetter said by the time the magazine hit the newsstands, Wie had already overhauled her swing.
“By then, her technique was totally different,” Leadbetter said. “She has gone from narrow stances to wide stances, from long swings to short swings, from being laid off to having bowed wrists at the top, from quicker tempos to slower tempos. I’ve joked with her that she could never write an instruction book. She would have to write 50 of them.
“In all seriousness, if Michelle can stick with something simple, and just go out and play golf and not worry about her swing, this girl can achieve anything. She is so talented, it’s ridiculous. She can hit shots like nobody else out there, bar none. Most of the girls out there are pretty one dimensional. Michelle can hit so many shots, towering 4-irons, hold up fades, in ways that other players can’t.”
They’ve talked about the problems with tinkering before, but never like this.
“We’ve tried to explain to Michelle that tinkering isn’t the way to go, that you’re never really giving yourself a chance to settle into anything,” Leadbetter said. “So, we’ve sort of made a deal this year. She’s made a commitment and a promise that she’s going to work on one or two things.”
Wie told GolfChannel.com she’s committed.
“We’ve kind of gone full circle,” Wie said. “We’re going back to that flowing motion, like when I was a kid, kind of that carefree motion, trying to make it easier on my body.
“It’s going good, and I’m really trying not to tinker with anything.”
Wie’s swing has evolved from that long, fluid stroke of her youth to varying versions of more compact swings through the years, with more robotic coiling and uncoiling.
“She’s looking great the way she’s swinging it,” Leadbetter said. “It’s rhythmical. The whole theme of this year is `natural.’ We’re trying to get back to that natural, flowing swing. It’s the first time in a long time she’s actually sort of stuck to a plan. I’m really proud of her.”
In the recent past, Leadbetter has never been quite certain what new version of Wie’s swing he was going to see when he reunited with her after time away.
“When I went down [to Jupiter, Fla.] to see her Saturday, I said, `Listen, I’m only driving down here to check you out, to see if you’ve changed your swing, and if you have, I’m leaving right away,’” Leadbetter said he joked.
While Rolex No. 1 Lydia Ko made a swing change after coming to Leadbetter, and seven-time major championship winner Inbee Park revamped her swing a few years ago, Leadbetter pointed out to Wie that those players don’t consistently tinker in any major way with their swings. Neither does world No. 3 Stacy Lewis.
“They’re repeaters,” Leadbetter told Wie. “They do the same thing over and over again.”
Wracked with health issues last year, Wie couldn’t build on the momentum she created in a terrific run from spring through mid-summer two years ago, when she contended at the ANA Inspiration, won the Lotte Championship and then broke through to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.
Wie looked poised in 2014 to make a run at No. 1 in the world rankings. She was in control of her ball-striking, and her putting never looked better, as awkward as that table-top stance looked. You don’t win a U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst with a mediocre putting stroke. She made a batch of clutch putts there.
But Wie’s attempt to follow up last year felt doomed from the start, when she got sick with strep throat at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, then battled a sinus infection in the early Asian swing. The hip, knee and ankle injuries made summer a grind.
Still, Wie remains emboldened remembering back to that 2014 run.
“It helps me a lot,” Wie said. “The confidence I built in 2014, it definitely pushes me through every day. I want to get back to that position, to that point again. I want a chance to get to No. 1.”
Leadbetter thinks Wie can be even better with this more “natural” swing. He thinks it will put less stress on her joints than the swing she used to win the U.S. Women’s Open.
“We have freed her up quite a bit from the swing she had there,” Leadbetter said. “It’s not nearly as tight. We're really trying to take the tension out of it. That's not only good from a technical standpoint, but also from a health standpoint. She was putting so much pressure on her hip, that's why she had so many issues with her hip. She had very little hip rotation taking it back with that swing. She had a wide stance and a big shoulder turn, with virtually no hip turn whatsoever. And she would drive at her left hip. The ball and socket of her left hip were screaming. This swing is freer and a little longer.”
While Leadbetter isn’t certain what kind of sawed off swings the heavy winds over the Bahamas might force Wie to make, he’s eager to see where this new swing eventually leads.
“Michelle’s excited to play this year,” Leadbetter said. “She still has that desire and passion for the game. She still loves the game. It will be interesting to see what happens this year.”