Wie having fun again, leads HSBC


Cue Johnny Cash’s defiant ballad.

When I hear that trumpet sound, I’m going to rise right out of the ground.

There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.

All the folks who have been fitting Michelle Wie’s career for a coffin, take notice.

There’s a pulse.

Wie is putting all those broken pieces of her game back together yet again at the HSBC Women’s Champions.

Wie isn’t just atop any old leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round in Singapore.

She’s leading all the best and biggest names in women’s golf. The top 15 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are all there.

With a 5-under-par 67 Saturday, Wie surged ahead in a bid to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

At 14 under overall, Wie is two shots ahead of Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko (67), No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (69) and emerging Korean sensation Sung Hyun Park (68).

Hall of Famer Inbee Park (71) and Ha Na Jang (68), the defending champ in search of her fifth victory in 12 months, are only three back.

“There definitely is some butterflies out there, but it's exciting getting that feeling again and being in this position,” Wie said. “It's a great feeling. I just want to go out there and have fun tomorrow and really enjoy it.”

David Leadbetter, Wie’s swing coach, reminded her that she has done this before, that she put herself back together to win twice in ’14, including the most important championship in women’s golf.

“She is in rarified air, that she hasn’t been in for a while, but I said to her, 'You have been here before. You can draw on some great experiences, especially Pinehurst, which was very pressurized coming down the stretch,’” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com. “It’s not like this is brand new territory.”

No matter how Sunday unfolds, Leadbetter said he is encouraged that Wie is moving in the right direction.

“The signs are there, regardless what happens,” Leadbetter said.

After a bout of injuries following her U.S. Women’s Open triumph, after tinkering with a host of swing changes that damaged her left hip and left knee and then her confidence, Wie has “settled on” a swing this year that’s working. Leadbetter said she isn’t constantly searching and experimenting anymore. She has committed to hitting a stock fade that has been repeatable, and it’s giving her a lot of confidence.

“It’s easing her mind,” Leadbetter said.

It’s also easing the mind of Leadbetter, who jokes that Wie seemed to have a new swing every time he has gone to see her the last few years. At last year’s start, he challenged her to narrow her stance, to try to go back to the more flowing swing of her youth, with more hip turn to protect her lower body.

“She has this fairly wide stance now, and the swing is fairly compact, but not as tight and as short as it was when she won the U.S. Women’s Open,” Leadbetter said. “At Pinehurst, she put a little more stress on her lower body. This swing is a little freer. The big thing is she has a pattern to her shots.”

Wie, 27, leads the field in Singapore in hitting greens in regulation (48 of 54). Overall, she’s also hitting almost 80 percent of her fairways this year.

“We’ve sort of decided on, 'Let’s hit this fade, hit it down the left side,’” Leadbetter said. “It’s not going to go left on her, unless she hits a bad pull, but, essentially, her misses are all one way now. Occasionally, she hits it right, but she is to where she knows how the ball is going to react.”

Leadbetter likes that Wie is going a little more by feel on the range these days.

“She looks at video a little bit less now, instead of every two swings, and she uses TrackMan now only occasionally,” Leadbetter said.

Wie’s mantra in Singapore this week is about trying to “just have fun.” Leadbetter is enjoying seeing Wie smile this week, and he’s enjoying seeing her competitive again, because she hasn’t been competitive the last two years.

Wie is playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption because she couldn’t get into the field any other way. She didn’t have a top-10 finish in all of 2015. She had just one last year. She entered this week’s event having missed the cut or withdrawn in 14 of her last 27 events. She slipped to 105th on the LPGA money list last year, costing her full LPGA status. She’s playing out of category 3 on the LPGA priority list this year, which is reserved for members who are major champions. 

“You can’t say it’s all injuries,” Leadbetter said. “But I do think they led to a loss of confidence. When she’s riding on a boat load of confidence, she’s an exciting player who can do a lot of things other players can’t do. I still maintain she can hit shots other girls can’t even think about hitting.”

Wie sought out Leadbetter at the Honda Classic last week, when she said she “begged” him to come over to the Bear’s Club in nearby Jupiter to help her work on a new putting stroke, a more upright posture after she abandoned her “table-top” stance. Wie went to the claw at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open two weeks ago but is now using a conventional grip.

“Michelle’s putting hasn’t given her a lot of confidence in the rest of her game the last two years, but she’s got some consistency now in her long game and there’s no telling what she can do when she’s putting well,” Leadbetter said.

Win or lose, Wie has a plan for Sunday.

“Doesn't matter how long it's been since I've been in contention or anything,” Wie said. “I'm really proud of myself for putting myself in this position. I'm going to enjoy it tomorrow and play as hard as I can and try it do my best.”