OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Michelle Wie is the rebel with a cause now.
“She has never been orthodox,” says David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”
With a new putting style that borders on multiple personality disorder, with her quirky pre-shot routines and now her unusually configured golf bag, Wie may be the LPGA’s most unorthodox player.
Here’s the thing, though: It’s working.
Somehow, some wacky way, it’s turning her around.
“It’s not pretty,” said Stacy Lewis, who played alongside Wie. “But it is working.”
Wie’s 3-under-par 68 Thursday put her into early contention at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, just two shots behind Chella Choi, the early leader.
Wie is finding her game with a hodge-podge of inventive technique and strategies. In some ways, Leadbetter said, she’s actually finding herself in this unconventional approach.
“Michelle has always had a unique way of going about things,” Leadbetter said.
Think Lonzo Ball’s quirky shooting form, Hideo Nomo’s eccentric pitching delivery, Rick Barry’s unconventional granny-style free throws and Dick Fosbury’s flop. They are all Wie’s kind of athletes.
“I’m just like, `This feels right, and I go with it,’” Wie said.
Wie’s tabletop putting stance was the oddest in golf last year. While her new stance looks so much more fundamentally sound now, her use of multiple grips is weird science.
Or, given Wie’s love of painting, maybe weird art.
Wie used at least three different putting grips Thursday in her round of five birdies and two bogeys on a windswept Olympia Fields Country Club course playing difficult.
She putted with the claw, she putted left-hand low and she putted conventional.
There might have been a couple more she improvised.
“I don’t know,” Wie said. “Don’t try to figure it out. It will be really hard.”
Wie’s bag was also unusually configured for a big hitter. She also stuck an 11-wood in it before the round.
“I told her she has more head covers in her bag now than Mi Hyun Kim ever did,” Leadbetter cracked.
But Leadbetter’s loving this.
“You can’t explain this to somebody,” Leadbetter said. “It wouldn’t make sense.”
The scorecards are adding up quite nicely, though.
After slumping through her worst year in eight seasons as a pro, Wie is making yet another comeback this season. She arrived this week as one of the favorites. She shot 64 last Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and tied for fourth. She tied for second in her start before that and tied for third the week before that.
“I kind of was sick of playing bad golf, honestly,” Wie said of her resurgence this season. “I was just sick of being down, and really started this year with a really good sense of determination and motivation. It's a long time to be out there to be miserable. So I just kind of made a pact with myself that I'm going to have fun, and if I hit a bad shot, brush it off.”
Wie is in early position to try to add a second major championship to her resume. She’s looking to win for the first time since she claimed the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst three years ago.
Wie’s success isn’t coming just from her improved putting. It’s coming from consistent ball striking. Wie attributes this to the new, more consistent fade she’s grooving.
Lewis marveled over what she was seeing. Well, what she dared to watch.
“I did not watch a lot of her shots,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t help you to see those kind of shots, but she is believing in what she is doing, and she’s hitting good shots, and she’s hitting it the same every time. That’s what good golf is.”
Lewis called Wie’s new shot shape more of a big cut than a fade.
Lewis was asked if she saw all the different putting grips Wie has used.
“There’s different everything,” but it is working,” Lewis said.
Wie says the left-to-right ball flight is helping her hit more fairways. It has also helped her eliminate two-way misses. She is basically taking trouble on the left out of play.
Wie was counting on this improved control in helping her in major championships.
“Knowing where the ball isn’t going to go is as important as knowing where it’s going to go in this game.” Leadbetter said.
Wie hit 12 of 14 fairways Thursday, and she hit 14 greens in regulation.
“Michelle likes to go at the ball hard,” Leadbetter said. “The great thing is hitting this fade allows her to be very aggressive. That fits her personality.”
And so do all the unorthodox ideas.