Topsy-Turvy Year for Wie

By George WhiteDecember 14, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Stories of the Year Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is story No. 5 from this past season.
 
You love her, you loathe her. No one feels ambivalent about her. But there is no denying that one of the biggest sports stories of 2006 was the continuing saga of teen-ager Michelle Wie.
 
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie had some good moments in 2006, like three top-5 finishes in LPGA majors.
The year was filled with both the good ' top-5 finishes in three of the four LPGA majors, a runner-up in the Evian Masters ' and the bad ' missed cuts in all three of her PGA TOUR appearances as well as in European and Japanese tour events. Along the way she made almost $20 million in endorsements, appearance money and purse money. And its all almost become a blur to the senior high school student in Honolulu, Hawaii.
 
Whether I play good or play bad, said Wie, I end the week knowing that I tried my hardest. It doesn't discourage me at all. ... I'm still young, so I'm still learning.
 
Her year began slowly, Wie missing the cut by four strokes in the PGA TOURs Sony Open in her home state. But when she began competing against women, she quickly zoomed to the top ' a third-place finish in the Fields Open, followed by another third in her first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. In that attempt, Wie was leading the field during the final nine holes of the tournament, only to finish just one shot out of a playoff.
 
She finished tied for fifth in the McDonalds LPGA Championship, tied for third at the U.S. Womens Open. A tie for 26th in the Weetabix Womens British Open was the only blot on an exemplary womens-major finish.
 
Take away the Womens British and a tie for 27th in the Samsung World Championship, and Wies average finish in womens events this year was a gaudy 3.5. However, against the men, she lost ground over her 2005 season ' she didnt come close to making a cut on the PGA TOUR or the European Tour or the Japanese Tour. And then there was her failed attempt at qualifying for the mens U.S. Open, where she made it through the first stage, but faltered late in Stage 2.
 
She did make the cut in the SK Telecom Open on the mens Asian Tour, but in that one against second-rate Far East pros she finished 35th.
 
A 17-year-old girl finishing so highly in the womens majors is a story unto itself. However, in trying and failing so often against the men, Wie gained a whole host of critics who vehemently objected that she should attempt to compete against men. And Wie definitely is aware of those negative sentiments ' but she will continue to tee it up against the gents whenever she gets an invitation.
 
A lot of people think that I have to master the LPGA before I can get to the PGA (TOUR), said Wie. But my feeling is a little bit different on that because they're so different.
 
Obviously, I'm playing the maximum number of LPGA tournaments that I can, and I'm trying to win a lot of tournaments there. But it's just so different out here that I feel like I have to play in PGA TOUR events to get better at PGA TOUR events, and I just have to go through it and work on it and learn from it. That's the way that I learn how to do it on the LPGA, as well, and I just think that I have to go through the same progress here. I know it's not going to come overnight. It's just a long learning progress.
 
Wie provoked further criticism when she professed she didnt know a rule against hitting moss during her backswing in a bunker at the Weetabix ' she was penalized two strokes ' and took another public-relations hit when she fired caddie Greg Johnson after her T-26 finish at the same tournament. Actually, she didnt personally deliver the news ' that was done by then-agent Ross Berlin. But the action further alienated many in the golfing public.
 
Despite her misses while playing with the men, Wie says she doesnt plan to quit the considerable challenge. She will keep on doggedly pushing ahead until she finally cracks through.
 
I never get discouraged, she says. It's not like it's a really easy thing to do, to make a cut on the PGA TOUR. If you think about it, every week, half the field is gone after the cut. I mean, the cut isn't like out of 144 players, 100 make it - only like 70 and ties make it. It's a really hard thing to do, and I feel like it's just really fun for me to play in these kinds of events.
 
I think it's a bigger deal for everyone else. Obviously I would love to make the cut. I would love to make the top 20. But I'm not really going to rush it. I realize it's not the easiest thing in the world for a 16-year-old girl to make the cut. I have to get stronger, I know where I have to get better at, and it's going to happen. I know it's in me, but Ive just going to play hole-by-hole and not really think about the cut.
 
Of course, the pressure continues to mount at each traditionally male event to advance to weekend play. But that, says Wie, is not the reason why she wants to make cuts. She doesnt want to advance just so she can become one of the first of her gender (along with Babe Zaharias) to achieve such a lofty honor on the PGA TOUR.
 
Michelle Wie
One of the lasting images of '06 is Wie being taken by ambulance from the John Deere Classic.
I want to make cuts because it's an achievement and it's a goal of mine. I'm not out here to justify anything. ... I feel like I don't really feel any extra pressure just because I'm a girl out here, she says.
 
One point that is often missed by her critics is that Wie is allowed to play in only six LPGA events a year as a non-member. Additionally, she is allowed to play in the U.S. Womens Open and the Womens British. Once she has played those, she HAS to play in mens events if she wants to keep active. But she says that is a rule that she is perfectly happy to abide by.
 
I would love to play one or two more events, she said. But unfortunately they (the LPGA) have the restriction and I'm very happy with the tournaments that I'm playing in.
 
I think that since I'm only playing a restricted number of LPGA events, it really opens up my schedule to play internationally and to play in more men's events - which I think is fabulous for me because I really enjoy playing internationally and playing on the PGA TOUR, playing on the Asian Tour, playing on the European Tour. It just brings so much excitement to my life that I really like it and I really like having the diversity.
 
And maybe the restriction of just being able to play in eight womens events has another side ' maybe its to the advantage of a high-school senior who just turned 17 October 11.
 
I think that having to balance school and golf is very important to me, because truth be told, I don't think I can really handle going out every single week and playing every single week. I like having the social life. I like having to get away from golf and just going to school and just being myself and just being 16 or 17 or 18.
 
I like having the dual life, so I'm very happy that school is still going to be a part of my life and that golf is still a part of my life, because they're both very important to me. And I feel like I have a good balance between the number of tournaments that I play and the amount of time that I spend in school.
 
So, she will again do what she did this year ' play a mix of womens and mens tournaments, and do it in spite of the multitudes who criticize her.
 
I think what Im doing might be right, might be wrong, she said, but its what I want to do right now, and it makes me happy. So I intend to keep on doing it.
 
Going into next year, this teen-ager surely will be a marked woman ' er, girl. She is simply a kid, a senior at a Honolulu high school, but she is so much more. Shes 6-feet-1, shes intelligent and she has a wonderful talent for playing golf.
 
I don't like being normal. I mean, people called me queer, but I like it, Wie said with a laugh.
 
I feel like I'm really normal when I'm at school. I'm normal on the golf course. It's hard to say what normal really is, you know. What is normal? I'm not really sure what that actually means. But I feel like God gave me a special talent, and I intend to use it. You know, when I'm at school, I'm me.
 
And, she is revising a lot of peoples opinions. Golf, from here on out, may not be just a gentlemens game.
 
Come on - I mean, a gentlemen's game? she said. It's just such an old mentality, and it's for anyone. It's really a people's game.
 
Related Links:
  • Michelle Wie Bio
  • Michelle Wie Photo Gallery
  • Reviewing 2006; Previewing 2007
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    Bifurcate to make game easier for amateurs

    By Phil BlackmarMay 24, 2018, 1:01 pm

    In January of 2017, Golf Digest ran a story about the average driving distance of amateurs. If you missed the article (click here to read it), the numbers may surprise you. It conveniently breaks down the results, both by handicap and by age, to provide a more detailed view of what golf is really like for the majority of players.

    I recently ran across the post again and couldn’t help myself; hence this article. The average driving distance on the PGA Tour is around 295 yards, with the leader in the 320-plus range. Per the article, low handicap players top the list at 250 yards, while the 10-19 handicapper – average player – drives it around 215. That’s a big difference.

    Bifurcation, the hotbed topic which ignites division among golfers at a level nearly on par with our nation’s current political weather, keeps banging at my door. Frank Nobilo recently said something to the effect that “the average player has never been further removed from the professional game.” I agree.

    The most common argument against splitting the rules is that golf is one game – where amateurs and professionals, alike, play the same game. But, do they really?

    The “regular” tees on many courses today have been stretched to around 6,500 yards, while the PGA Tour average is over 7,400. Most courses keep greens soft and running around 10 on a stimpmeter (I know, you’re course prides itself on 14’s) while the average on Tour is 12 1/2. Even with the Tour’s comparative lack of rough, it’s still deeper and more penal than most courses opt for, day in and day out.



    Tour players also compete under the watchful eye of a staff keen on strict adherence to the rules, while a large percentage of average players are unfamiliar with many of the rules (Me, too; they keep changing). One other thing: Tour players have to count every shot they hit, finish every hole and there are no gimmes nor mulligans.

    Add the distance pros hit the ball and it’s easy to see they play a different game. If you disagree, take the time to play a “Tour” course from the tournament tees right after a competition and see what you can shoot.

    Putting that argument aside, it occurred to me that I’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle. My reasons for bifurcation have had more to do with protecting my view of the integrity of the game rather than what would be best for the average player.

    The guys on the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour (LPGA and PGA Tour Champions, too) can really, really play. Last week, I watched a 36-year-old unknown player who had never won on either tour shoot 27 (with a bogey on the front-nine, par 35) in route to a 60. Then he came back two days later with a 28 on the same nine. He won on the Web.com Tour.

    Science has unlocked many of the mysteries of the game. Club and ball technology have prompted a benefit for athleticism like never before. Biomechanics, video, launch monitors and force plates have combined to create a huge pool of players with very good swings. Did I mention that they can really play?

    However, taking advantage of all this technology requires hours in the gym every day, hours on the range every day, hours on the course every day, and hours in the laboratory on a consistent basis. How many amateur players have the time and money to do all this? That’s right, not most. That’s why the median 10-19 handicap player averages 215 off the tee. They just don’t receive nearly as much benefit from today’s technological advancements as does the touring pro.

    So, instead of penalizing the professional player for working hard and taking advantage of all that is available today, my argument has shifted to wanting bifurcation in order to make the game easier, less costly and quicker for the average player.

    My idea for the average player begins with distance; the game is too darn long. Think about it: If a player gives up 80 yards off the tee and 45 yards on a 7-iron (180-135), it makes sense that this player should play from 7,400 – ((80 X 14) + (45 X 14) + (4 X 50)) = 5,450 yards to relate to the tour game. Even for the player who averages 250 off the tee and 160 with a 7-iron, the same reasoning yields a 6,400-yard course, give or take a little. But I’m not stopping there, equipment rules need to be relaxed as well.

    For instance, the allowable trampoline effect for amateurs should be increased with a focus to fit slower club-head speeds. The limit on the size of the club head needs to be removed and larger grooves for more control and spin should be allowed. Ball limits should be relaxed so the player with lower club-head speed gets more benefit from new ball technologies.

    Courses also need to quit watering so much, which would yield a more natural look as opposed to playing in the botanical gardens. This will allow the ball to run out more, effectively shorten the course and open up more options for how to play a shot or hole. Running the ball up on a green or down a fairway needs to return to the game. Rough needs to be eliminated; it’s supposed to be a game rewarding angles not just penalizing off the mark shots. It would also be great to see tree branches trimmed up, when possible, to allow for windows of opportunity and artistry instead of simply creating pitch-out masters.

    There will always be the faction that consider themselves purists, which is great. Let major amateur championships stick to the stricter set of rules.

    Wait, you could even go as far as to make it a different game altogether and give it a different name, flog for example. That way you don’t need different sets of rules for the same game; each game can have its own set of rules. Tennis is seeing a shift to include pickle ball, maybe golf embraces flog. You could go to the flog course instead of the golf course.

    You could even have the USFA, United States Flogging Association, established for the advancement and preservation of flogging, tasked with protecting the game’s original vision of a fun, cheap game which plays quick and embraces imagination and artistry. I think you would be surprised how much you would like flog.

    Anyone care to go flogging Saturday?

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    LPGA Korean event gets sponsor, new venue

    By Golf Channel DigitalMay 24, 2018, 12:21 pm

    BMW Group Korea will be the title sponsor of the LPGA’s new South Korean event scheduled for next year. 

    The event will be played at LPGA International Busan in the port city of Busan in October of 2019. It’s the first LPGA golf facility to be opened outside the United States, with the golf course scheduled to be ready for play in the summer of next year. The LPGA announced in a news conference in Busan in March that the course would host a new event with the title sponsor to be named at a later date.

    BMW Group Korea will give South Korea two LPGA events in the fall Asian swing. The KEB Hana Bank Championship is played in Incheon in October.

    The Busan event will feature a $2 million purse with a first-place check of $300,000.

    Formerly Asiad Country Club, LPGA International Busan is a renovation being managed by Rees Jones. The golf facility’s opening will mark the first of several projects the LPGA plans in the region, including the opening of an LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Center and the establishment of an LPGA regional qualifying school.

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    Arizona caps an improbable journey with a title

    By Ryan LavnerMay 24, 2018, 3:49 am

    STILLWATER, Okla. – Five hours before the final match at the NCAA Women’s Championship, Arizona coach Laura Ianello sat cross-legged on a couch in the Holiday Inn lobby and broke down four times in a half-hour interview.

    It’s been that kind of exhausting season.

    From poor play to stunning midseason defections to a stroke-play collapse, Ianello has felt uneasy for months. She has felt like she was losing control. Felt like her carefully crafted roster was coming apart.

    So to even have a chance to win a NCAA title?

    “I know what this team has gone through,” she said, beginning to tear up, “and you don’t get these opportunities all the time. So I want it for them. This could be so life-changing for so many of them.”

    A moment that seemed impossible six months ago became reality Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

    Arizona continued its magical run through the match-play bracket and knocked off top-ranked Alabama to capture its third NCAA title, with junior Haley Moore – who first rose to fame by making the cut at an LPGA major as a 16-year-old – rolling in a 4-footer to earn the clinching point in extra holes.

    All throughout nationals Arizona was fueled by momentum and adrenaline, but this was no Cinderella squad. The Wildcats were ranked ninth in the country. They won twice this spring. They had four medalists. They were one of the longest-hitting teams in the country.

    But even before a miracle end to NCAA stroke play, Arizona needed some help just to get here.


    NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

    NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


    On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, texted Ianello that she was turning pro. It may have been a gift to her parents, for their years of sacrifice, but it was a lump of coal in Ianello’s stocking.

    “I was absolutely heartbroken,” she said. “It was devastating.”

    Even more bad news arrived a few weeks later, when junior Gigi Stoll told Ianello that she was unhappy, homesick and wanted to return to Portland, Ore. Just like that, a promising season had gone off the rails.

    Ianello offered her a full release, but Stoll looked around, found no other suitors and decided to remain with the team – as long as she signed a contract of expected behavior.

    “It was the most exhausting two months of my life,” Ianello said. “We care so much about these freakin’ girls, and we’re like, Come on, this is just a small, little picture of your life, so you don’t realize what you’re possibly giving up. It’s so hard to see that sometimes.”

    Stoll eventually bought in, but the rest of the team was blindsided by Quihuis’ decision.

    “We became even more motivated to prove we were a great team,” said junior Bianca Pagdanganan.

    It also helped that Yu-Sang Hou joined the squad in January. The morale immediately improved, not least because the players now could poke fun at Hou; on her fourth day on campus she nearly burned down the dorm when she forgot to add water to her mac-and-cheese.

    Early on Ianello and assistant Derek Radley organized a team retreat at a hotel in Tucson. There the players created Oprah-inspired vision boards and completed exercises blindfolded and delivered 60-second speeches to break down barriers. At the end of the session, they created T-shirts that they donned all spring. They splashed “The Great Eight” on the front, put the state of Arizona and each player’s country of origin on the sleeves, and on the back printed their names and a slogan: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

    “I can’t think of anything else that better embodies this team,” Radley said.

    This spring, they rallied together and finished no worse than fourth in a tournament. Through three rounds of stroke play here at the NCAA Championship, they used their distance advantage and sat third in the standings. Then they shot 17 over par in the final round, tumbling outside the top-8 cut line.

    They were down to their final chance on the 72nd hole, needing an eagle to tie, as Pagdanganan lined up her 30-footer. She dramatically drained the putt, then gathered her teammates on the range.

    “This means we were meant to be in the top 8,” she said. Less than an hour later, they beat Baylor in the team playoff to earn the last match-play berth.

    Ianello was so amped up from the frenetic finish that she slept only three hours on Monday night, but they continued to roll and knocked off top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals, beating a pair of Player of the Year contenders, Lilia Vu and Patty Tavatanakit, in the process. In the afternoon semifinals, they jumped all over Stanford and won easily.

    It was a cute story, the last team into the match-play field reaching the final match, but a stiffer challenge awaited the Wildcats Wednesday.

    Alabama was the top-ranked team in the country. The Tide were a whopping 110 under par for the season, boasting three first-team All-Americans who were so dominant in their first two matches that they trailed for only two of the 99 holes they played.

    Ianello already seemed to be bracing for the result on the eve of the final match.

    “Win or lose,” she said, “this has been a hell of a ride.”

    But their wild ride continued Wednesday, as Hou won four holes in a row to start the back nine and defeat Alabama’s best player, Lauren Stephenson, who had the best single-season scoring average (69.5) in Division I history.

    Then sophomore Sandra Nordaas – the main beneficiary after Quihuis left at the midway point of the season – held on for a 1-up victory over Angelica Moresco.

    And so Arizona’s national-title hopes hinged on the success of its most mercurial player, Moore. In the anchor match against Lakareber Abe, Moore jumped out to a 2-up lead at the turn but lost the first three holes on the back nine.

    By the time Radley sped back to help Moore, in the 12th fairway, she was frazzled.

    “But seeing me,” Radley said, “I saw a sense of calm wash over her.”

    Moore played solidly for the rest of the back nine and took a 1-up lead into the home hole. She didn’t flinch when Abe hit one of the shots of the entire championship – a smoked 3-wood to 12 feet to set up a two-putt birdie and force extras – and then gave herself 4 feet for the win on the first playoff hole. She sank the putt and within seconds was mobbed by her teammates.

    In the giddy aftermath, Ianello could barely speak. She wandered around the green in a daze, looking for someone, anyone, to hug.

    The most trying year of her career had somehow ended in a title.

    “At some moments, it felt impossible,” she said. “But I underestimated these young women a little bit.”

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    Pac-12 continues to dominate women's golf

    By Golf Channel DigitalMay 24, 2018, 3:04 am

    Arizona's women's golf championship marked the fourth consecutive year in‌ which the women's Division I national title was won by a Pac-12 team. All four championships were won by different schools (Stanford, 2015; Washington, 2016; Arizona State, 2017; Arizona, 2018). The Pac-12 is the only conference to win four straight golf championships (men or women) with four different schools.

    Here are some other statistical notes from the just-concluded NCAA Div. I Women's Golf Championship:

    • This is the second time that Arizona has won the national title the year after rival Arizona State won it. The last time was 1996.

    • Arizona now has three women's golf national championships. The previous two came in 1996 and 2000.


    NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

    NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


    • Arizona is only the sixth school to win three or more Div. I women's golf championships, joining Arizona State (8), Duke (6), San Jose State (3), UCLA (3) and USC (3).

    • Arizona's Haley Moore, who earned the clinching point on the 19th hole of her match with Alabama's Lakareber Abe, was the only Arizona player to win all three of her matches this week.

    • Alabama's Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight also went 3-0. Gillman did not trail in any match.

    • Since the match-play format was instituted in 2015, Arizona is the lowest seed (8) to claim the national title. The seeds claiming the national championship were Stanford (4) in 2015; Washington (4) in 2016; and Arizona State (3) in 2017.