Wie, Leadbetter hoping less is more in 2016

By Randall MellJanuary 27, 2016, 2:30 am

No more tinkering with the swing.

It’s time to commit to a plan to harness all that potential and see what’s really possible.

That’s the tough love message David Leadbetter delivered to Michelle Wie when they came together at month’s start to begin preparations for the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic and this week’s opening of the LPGA season, a year they’re both hoping will be a rejuvenating bounce back from Wie’s health woes last season.

“We had a heart-to-heart talk in early January,” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com. “I was very candid with her. I’ve known Michelle half her life. I love her like a daughter, and we can say things to each other. I said, `You’ve been playing golf professionally for 10 years now, and the years are going to go more quickly from here on. Now is the time, young lady, when you need to start to show what you’re really capable of.’”

Mostly, what Leadbetter wanted from Wie, 26, was an agreement to fully commit to a swing and stick with it.

Wie’s swing has gone through more evolutions than either cares to count since they began working together when she was 13. She’s creative and imaginative, even inventive, as she has shown with her unorthodox “table-top” putting stance, which is undergoing some change now, too. She’s less hunched over the ball now, Leadbetter said. The experimenting has always been part of the fun for Wie, part of the game’s challenge. It’s also been  a challenge for Leadbetter, trying  to keep up.

“Michelle is the consummate tinkerer with her golf swing,” Leadbetter said. “I’ve never seen anybody in all my teaching career who is able to change her swing so drastically from almost week to week.”

Last spring, Wie did an instructional spread with Golf Magazine, breaking down her swing. Leadbetter said by the time the magazine hit the newsstands, Wie had already overhauled her swing.

“By then, her technique was totally different,” Leadbetter said. “She has gone from narrow stances to wide stances, from long swings to short swings, from being laid off to having bowed wrists at the top, from quicker tempos to slower tempos. I’ve joked with her that she could never write an instruction book. She would have to write 50 of them.

“In all seriousness, if Michelle can stick with something simple, and just go out and play golf and not worry about her swing, this girl can achieve anything. She is so talented, it’s ridiculous. She can hit shots like nobody else out there, bar none. Most of the girls out there are pretty one dimensional. Michelle can hit so many shots, towering 4-irons, hold up fades, in ways that other players can’t.”

Wie's offseason includes tips from Tiger, shark diving

Photos: Wie through the years

They’ve talked about the problems with tinkering before, but never like this.

“We’ve tried to explain to Michelle that tinkering isn’t the way to go, that you’re never really giving yourself a chance to settle into anything,” Leadbetter said. “So, we’ve sort of made a deal this year. She’s made a commitment and a promise that she’s going to work on one or two things.”

Wie told GolfChannel.com she’s committed.

“We’ve kind of gone full circle,” Wie said. “We’re going back to that flowing motion, like when I was a kid, kind of that carefree motion, trying to make it easier on my body.

“It’s going good, and I’m really trying not to tinker with anything.”

Wie’s swing has evolved from that long, fluid stroke of her youth to varying versions of more compact swings through the years, with more robotic coiling and uncoiling.

“She’s looking great the way she’s swinging it,” Leadbetter said. “It’s rhythmical. The whole theme of this year is `natural.’ We’re trying to get back to that natural, flowing swing. It’s the first time in a long time she’s actually sort of stuck to a plan. I’m really proud of her.”

In the recent past, Leadbetter has never been quite certain what new version of Wie’s swing he was going to see when he reunited with her after time away.

“When I went down [to Jupiter, Fla.] to see her Saturday, I said, `Listen, I’m only driving down here to check you out, to see if you’ve changed your swing, and if you have, I’m leaving right away,’” Leadbetter said he joked.

While Rolex No. 1 Lydia Ko made a swing change after coming to Leadbetter, and seven-time major championship winner Inbee Park revamped her swing a few years ago, Leadbetter pointed out to Wie that those players don’t consistently tinker in any major way with their swings. Neither does world No. 3 Stacy Lewis.

“They’re repeaters,” Leadbetter told Wie. “They do the same thing over and over again.”

Wracked with health issues last year, Wie couldn’t build on the momentum she created in a terrific run from spring through mid-summer two years ago, when she contended at the ANA Inspiration, won the Lotte Championship and then broke through to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.

Wie looked poised in 2014 to make a run at No. 1 in the world rankings. She was in control of her ball-striking, and her putting never looked better, as awkward as that table-top stance looked. You don’t win a U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst with a mediocre putting stroke. She made a batch of clutch putts there.

But Wie’s attempt to follow up last year felt doomed from the start, when she got sick with strep throat at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, then battled a sinus infection in the early Asian swing. The hip, knee and ankle injuries made summer a grind.

Still, Wie remains emboldened remembering back to that 2014 run.

“It helps me a lot,” Wie said. “The confidence I built in 2014, it definitely pushes me through every day. I want to get back to that position, to that point again. I want a chance to get to No. 1.”

Leadbetter thinks Wie can be even better with this more “natural” swing. He thinks it will put less stress on her joints than the swing she used to win the U.S. Women’s Open.

“We have freed her up quite a bit from the swing she had there,” Leadbetter said. “It’s not nearly as tight. We're really trying to take the tension out of it. That's not only good from a technical standpoint, but also from a health standpoint. She was putting so much pressure on her hip, that's why she had so many issues with her hip. She had very little hip rotation taking it back with that swing. She had a wide stance and a big shoulder turn, with virtually no hip turn whatsoever. And she would drive at her left hip. The ball and socket of her left hip were screaming. This swing is freer and a little longer.”

While Leadbetter isn’t certain what kind of sawed off swings the heavy winds over the Bahamas might force Wie to make, he’s eager to see where this new swing eventually leads.

“Michelle’s excited to play this year,” Leadbetter said. “She still has that desire and passion for the game. She still loves the game. It will be interesting to see what happens this year.”

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

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How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.

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“A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

“Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

“You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

“There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

“It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.

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Fleetwood: Carnoustie course record won't help at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, but he’s skeptical that his past experience will help him at The Open.

Last fall, in the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, Fleetwood birdied six of his last eight holes to card a bogey-free, 9-under 63, the lowest score ever at what is widely considered to be the most difficult course in the Open rota.

No one expects a repeat this week at Carnoustie – not with the conditions this brown, firm and fast.

“It’s a completely different course,” Fleetwood said Monday. “Shots that you’ve hit have literally no relevance for a lot of it.

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“It doesn’t do any harm to have played it for a few years. It doesn’t do any harm to have a course record, but it’s a completely different challenge to what we normally face.”

Fleetwood took a much-needed two-week break after the French Open, deciding to withdraw from last week’s Scottish Open for a bit more time in his own bed. (He said it was his last full week at home until mid-October.) Since his sparkling 63 to nearly steal the U.S. Open, the Englishman said that he’d “run out of steam” but now feels energized.  

“There’s not really a good reason why I couldn’t do it (this week),” he said. “It really doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. The only thing they could do is build your confidence and give you examples of what you can do – examples that you can end up there, and you have the game to compete.”