They’ve been through a lot together, from her burst onto the national scene as a young phenom with a dream of playing against PGA Tour pros through her swoon after a pair of wrist injuries three seasons ago to her breakthrough LPGA victory this year.
Senior writer Randall Mell connected with Leadbetter for a quick round earlier this week, before Wie’s ankle injuries worsened and caused her withdrawal from the LPGA Tour Championship on Thursday:
I’ve always believed in her. I knew the talent she had and that it was just a matter of time. I think it’s a great thing for the LPGA. If players are smart, they realize she’s a special talent who ultimately can really help them, in Tiger-like fashion. The LPGA needs a jump start. It’s obviously had some issues losing tournaments and with the economy and so on, and she can certainly help stimulate things. When she is playing well there is nobody in the women’s game who draws crowds and creates interest like she does, regardless. There are a tremendous number of good players, but she is a story, and she’s been a story for a long while for the right reasons and the wrong reasons, nevertheless a story.
Did you feel the relief she felt finally winning?
I felt `thank goodness.’ It’s been a huge, huge cross to bear for her. She’s had so much thrown at her. There are so many experts out there who think they know how to do it. Let’s face it, she’s made mistakes, who hasn’t? She went about it a little differently. You hear about all the parental control, but part of it is cultural. They are a very close-knit family. They have their little deals as most families do, but Michelle is her own person. She is the one who decided she wanted to go to college and that she wanted to play PGA Tour events. She was encouraged, but she is very strong-minded, very strong-willed. I knew the victory was going to come, it was just a matter of when. To be honest, I didn’t think it would be this year with the injury.
The left ankle injury clearly bothered her at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, but it didn’t stop her.
I think the expectations weren’t as high because of the injury. We did some stuff on Internet before she left, and (her swing) wasn’t looking very good. She made an adjustment in her stance to try to alleviate the pain in her foot. She opened her foot way up, which was causing some problems. I said, 'Listen, I know you have to live through this pain, but you have to get this foot squared up.’ She did that. She was driving the ball well there. She said she was more comfortable with the driver last week than she’s been in a long time.
The ankle injury must have put you on guard, because you saw how detrimental her wrist injuries were to her swing in 2007. You were outspoken about how you thought she was coming back too quickly. In fact, you haven’t been afraid to tell Michelle or her parents things they might not want to hear.
I haven’t always agreed with all their decisions, and I’ve been vocal about that. I’ve been around, and I’ve seen what helps create success and what helps create problems. I’d be the first to admit they did some things that in retrospect they wouldn’t do if they had to do it over again, like not playing in so many men’s events. I think they respect me enough that I can say things. I’m close to them and part of the inner circle.
Her last year of high school (in 2006), she went over to play the European Masters (on the men’s European Tour), and I think she finished dead last. She was fatigued, swinging out of her shoes, her wrists were already giving her some issues, some tendinitis. Then she went out and played in the 84 Lumber Classic the next week (and missed the cut by 13 shots) on the longest course of the year. Now, she’s just played two events against men, she’s very fatigued, but her work ethic comes into it. She’s deciding she’s going to work this out, and then she breaks her wrist training. It wasn’t rehabbed properly.
When she came back, there was just no way she should have played, but it was enthusiasm on Michelle’s part. It was her competitive spirit saying I can do this, but it was nuts. She’s a player who wants to play. It’s hard for a player to be on the sideline, it’s really hard. She wasn’t healed, she wasn’t strong, she developed some bad habits as a result and when you do that there are mental issues and you lose confidence.
How did that affect her?
She was down about her game, and she just wasn’t a happy person. She’s genuinely a very happy person who loves life and is always laughing, but she was miserable then. You can understand that.
How did she bounce back?
It’s a case where she worked her way back. She went back to ground zero so to speak. She had to rebuild her credibility, and she did that. She went through tour school.
You said her ability to get away from golf helped her bounce back. She has interest in art and fashion and as a fan of other sports.
She’s happy now. That’s important. She didn’t like golf for awhile, but golf doesn’t rule her life. She likes doing other things. To some extent, these other things are going to give her a fairly long career. The concern I have in so many young players is they are going to get burned out. That’s a concern I have for a lot of young players. There’s such a rush to get so good so young and so fast. Tiger Woods has great balance in his life. Jack Nicklaus did too. Michelle has that balance.