Wie's Solheim spark


DUNSANY, Ireland – Something about the Solheim Cup transformed Michelle Wie.

She blossomed as a pro in her debut for the Americans two years ago.

She was as good as anyone has ever seen her while helping the Americans beat Europe at Rich Harvest Farms.

In three dizzying days, she looked determined to fulfill all the potential her performance had hinted at over the years.

Over those 72 hours, Wie was literally unbeatable.

A controversial captain’s pick by Beth Daniel, Wie roared through the event with a 3-0-1 record.

“I was so happy when I did well in my first Solheim Cup,” Wie said. “It was a really, truly amazing experience. I’ve never felt so much support.”

It was as if Wie found something that week that she had lost. She rediscovered the hope, promise and confidence that were going to make her the game’s next big star. You could see it in a suddenly revitalized putting stroke, or you could just look at the fire in her eyes.

“Anybody that has said Michelle Wie can’t play under pressure, I think they were proven wrong,” Daniel said after Wie won back-to-back Saturday matches at Rich Harvest Farms. “She was walking on air. She just hit great shot after great shot.”

Can Wie, 21, conjure the magic again this week?

Wie’s first Solheim Cup performance filtered into her game when she returned to the LPGA in the fall of ’09. She broke through to win her first LPGA title at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Wie won again last year, but she’s looking for her first victory this year. She finished second at the CN Canadian Women’s Open a month ago, but it was her only top-10 finish in her last eight starts. She’s still working to find her putting stroke with a new belly putter she put in her bag this summer.

Back in ’09, Wie’s putter got hot at the Solheim Cup after a visit with putting guru Dave Stockton. She’ll be looking to heat it up again at Killeen Castle, where the greens can befuddle.

Wie’s performance at Rich Harvest Farms was memorable, but so was what happened behind the scenes. It was the first time as a pro she felt comfortable dropping her guard. Escaping the cocoon that had been designed to protect her as a teenage prodigy, she connected on a meaningful personal level with fellow LPGA pros.

“I think it’s where she really got to become friends with Morgan Pressel,” said David Leadbetter, Wie’s swing coach.

Away from her parents that week, away from the entourage built to guide a young star, Wie got to show other players a side of herself they had never seen. Pressel remembers bolting out of the team quarters one evening before the competition started.

“Michelle brings out her laptop computer onto the practice putting green, and she’s got the music blaring,” Pressel said. “We’re out there dressed inappropriately for golf. We are in blue jeans and sweat pants, and we’re all dancing on the green. We had this crazy putting contest and just having fun.”

Something about the team atmosphere helped push Wie’s confidence to another level.

“I think there’s something about match play that brings out the best in Michelle, but what happened with the team was extremely important for her,” Leadbetter said. “She sort of had, I don’t want to say a wall around her, but it was a wall to a certain extent, for obvious and understandable reasons. She was young. She was special. She had all these sponsorships, and because of all of that, she was looked at differently. But she really got into the team environment. I think it was one of those times she could really express herself, with no outside pressures. She made so many friendships that week that have meant a lot to her.”

Wie didn’t even mind letting players who are fierce rivals every other week see her flaws.

“Out on tour, it can be so serious, where you are trying to show your game faces to each other, but it’s different in the team room at the Solheim Cup,” Wie said. “They got to see how I’m always falling, or running into something, or saying something stupid.

“With 150 women out on tour, you can’t get to know everyone. At the Solheim Cup, it’s different. There are only 12 of us, and we are together all the time. We eat together, sleep together, hold each other’s hands. Before I got to my first Solheim Cup, I knew all of the other players, and I respected them, but I didn’t really know them personally. At the Solheim Cup, you really get to know each other, and you get to know each other beyond golf.”

Wie’s looking for that atmosphere to light another spark in her game.