Wie getting the best of both worlds

By Doug FergusonFebruary 14, 2012, 9:04 pm

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Michelle Wie did not go to Stanford to play golf, at least not the game that brought her worldwide fame as a teenager.

“One time, me and a couple of guys played campus golf,” said Wie, sitting in a coffee house on campus after her longest day of classes. “You hit tennis balls with a golf club. You start at the frats and end at the fountain, so that’s like one hole. We hit cars, we hit some bikers. Just goofy things that you don’t usually do.”

These are the goofy times she wouldn’t trade for anything.

Moments like tailgating at the Fiesta Bowl before Stanford played Oklahoma State. Sitting - mostly standing, actually - in the student section behind the bench at Cardinal basketball games. Spending all day roasting a pig before a Super Bowl party. Catching up with friends at the Coho Cafe, where cartoon figures of famous alumni are painted on the walls.

There’s a caricature of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, and even one of Tiger Woods, who won an NCAA title at Stanford. Wie’s face is not among them. She’s a student, just like everyone else.

And she appears to be loving life more than ever.

“My life has progressed in various ways than I thought it was going to,” said Wie, who laughs easily these days. “I’m more rooted in what I’m doing. I guess that’s called growing up.”

For much of her teenage years, all Wie heard was that she was going about life the wrong way. She was playing too much golf, way too early. She was playing against the men. She turned pro as a junior in high school.

Turns out she knew what she was doing all along.

In an era where young players don’t make it all the way through college, if they even go to college, Wie has had the best of both worlds. She’s an LPGA Tour player who has two career wins and finished 18th on the money list last year. And she’s a senior at Stanford, expected to finish next month and go through graduation in June with a degree in communications.

“I think she’s happiest when she’s at school,” said Juli Inkster, who occasionally sees Wie when she comes out to Los Altos Country Club to practice. Inkster’s husband, Brian, is the head pro.

“Time will tell as far as her golf,” Inkster said. “I still think she’s got the talent to be really good. I’m not sure what she wants. She’s still got a ton of talent. And she’s happy being a student. She had a boyfriend on the football team. She said she’s graduating this year. It’s pretty impressive.”

Wie’s parents live near campus, and they accompany her when she practices and when she plays on the LPGA Tour. She is playing her first tournament this week in Thailand, and will stay out for the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. Wie also travels with a Pomeranian she named Lola, which she bought on a whim after browsing through a pet store. College kids are impulsive that way.

It’s easy to speculate that Wie’s development as a player has been slowed by not devoting herself entirely to golf. She looks at it from a different perspective.

What if she had never gone to college?

“I might not be playing,” she said. “I might be burned out. I’m not a person who 24 hours a day can only think, live, eat and breathe golf. I’m not that kind of a person. If I did that, I might be fed up with it. Here, I learned how to live on my own, to do things on my own. My relationship with my parents changed. You change from being a kid to someone your parents respect.”

Wie first gained attention when she played in a junior-pro event at the Sony Open at age 12, and PGA Tour players would stop to watch her swing on the practice range. It was Tom Lehman who called her the “Big Wiesy,” because the fluid swing reminded him of Ernie Els.

She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at age 13, the youngest USGA winner of an event with no age limit. A year later, she shot 68 in the Sony Open and missed the cut by one shot. She shared the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Women’s Open at 15, and the next year had a chance to win three LPGA majors on the back nine.

Even when Annika Sorenstam was at the height of her game, Wie drew the biggest crowds.

That began to change when she injured her wrist - only later finding out she had broken three bones - and continued to play. She withdrew from one tournament on the verge of shooting 88, which would have meant being ineligible to play the LPGA Tour for a year, then showed up the next week for a major. She broke par only twice that year. She withdrew from the Women’s Open.

She looked miserable. She was miserable.

What saved her was showing up at The Farm to start her freshman year.

“A lot of my life, I was doing … even now, going to college, I’m not doing what everyone thinks I should be doing. Everyone has an opinion about me,” Wie said. “I knew I wanted to go to school. After I had my injury, it changed the way I was thinking. I was struggling out there. It was a struggle every day to practice. And it made me realize that I’ve got to enjoy what I’m doing.

“Winning tournaments and being unhappy is not going to cut it.”

That she has made it through Stanford in less than five years is astounding. Wie figured it might take at least six. She takes school work on the road, mixes a full load of classes with practice when she’s home.

And while she is regarded as a part-time player, Wie plays as many tournaments as Woods.

“Ten years ago, all the stories were she was pushing too hard, playing with the guys, she’s going to burn out, and you know how this ends. Another example of a person who didn’t follow the right path and go to school,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. “Jump forward, and she’s top 20 in the world (No. 17), taking 18 credit hours, she’s getting a degree from Stanford.

“I believe the best for her is coming,” he said. “She really got it when everyone else predicted she wouldn’t. She got the last laugh. The coolest thing about Michelle Wie is she likes her life. And we all predicted she’d hate her life.”

Wie has always been about looking forward, though there is one regret. She was playing an LPGA event in 2007 and missed her high school graduation. She won’t make that mistake twice.

“I’ve already checked the schedule,” she said, beaming. “There’s no tournament that week. I’m going.”

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”