CHASKA, Minn. – Michelle Wie will turn 30 in four months.
Her joints probably feel a lot older.
Since breaking into the golf world’s consciousness shooting 66 as a 13-year-old at the Kraft Nabisco to get into the final Sunday pairing, then wowing PGA Tour pros as a 14-year-old at the Sony Open, Wie has endured more than her share of injuries.
She may only be 29, but she has been playing tour events for 17 years.
All the mileage has taken a toll.
Her wrists, neck, back, hip, knees and ankles have all broken down at some point with the wear and tear.
“I call her a walking cadaver,” David Leadbetter, her swing coach, has cracked more than once. “I don’t think there’s one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t been injured.”
Wie fans might be watching with one eye closed as she makes her return to the game this week from her most recent injury, multiple ailments of the right hand. It’s been so long since she has played healthy, concern runs through more than her own camp.
Is she really ready to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship after another long spell away to heal? How much more pounding can her body take? Is rushing back from all these injuries shortening her career’s lifespan, with aching joints appearing to worsen after she was involved in a car accident two-and-a-half years ago? She is battling arthritis in both wrists. She has undergone multiple cortisone injections, and then platelet-rich plasma treatments, after her doctors told her she couldn’t have any more cortisone shots. Most recently, she has been undergoing laser therapy and compression therapy.
“Your hands are everything,” Leadbetter said back in April, when Wie announced she was taking two months off to more fully heal from last fall’s surgery to repair an avulsion fracture, bone spurs and nerve entrapment in her right hand. “You don’t want this to become career ending.”
Leadbetter made that observation as more than Wie’s swing coach.
“She’s almost like a daughter to me,” Leadbetter said. “I’ve known her for so long.
Leadbetter knows Wie’s stubborn nature, how she pushes too hard to play through injuries. Wie acknowledged that stubbornness on Tuesday. She probably shouldn’t have played the International Crown last October. She wasn’t at her best. She appeared to come back from her surgery too quickly this spring. She was 10-over and withdrew after 14 holes of her title defense at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in February, just her second start back. She missed back-to-back cuts in April, at the ANA Inspiration and Lotte Championship. She aggravated her injury in Hawaii, her last start.
“Media-wise and fan-wise, we want Michelle back,” Stacy Lewis said. “I don't think you'll have a player that says otherwise.
“Michelle’s health, I don't know the specifics, but I'd rather see her take more time and really be a hundred percent when she comes back, so she can be the Michelle Wie that everybody has seen on the golf course.
“Over past few years, she has rushed back from a lot of injuries, and it's led to more.”
Wie acknowledged she wanted to play the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago, but it would have taken “a miracle” to get ready.
“If I had my choice, I would be playing all through this, but lot of people are in my ear, telling me, reminding me, what has happened in the past,” Wie said. “It's hard to sit out, but you’ve got to listen to people that know what they're talking about.”
Wie considered asking the LPGA for a medical extension to take the rest of this year off, but she decided to commit to the KPMG Women’s PGA after consulting with her doctors.
“My doctors are still saying even if I do take the rest of the year off, it's not something that will get better, just with time,” Wie said. “So, just a matter of rehabbing.”
Wie began chipping and putting two weeks ago and hitting full shots just a week ago.
“Unfortunately, these majors are all really close together,” Wie said. “I'm running on a schedule that's just not really ideal, but the doctors, they gave me advice to wait until the last possible moment to pick up a golf club and that's kind of what I've been doing.”
Leadbetter and Wie are working on a swing that will lessen stress on her arthritic wrists.
“It’s a more body-oriented swing, with the arms, wrists and hands playing less a role,” Leadbetter said. “It’s more about rotation, than sliding.”
Wie, whose five LPGA titles include the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, hasn’t been a factor in an LPGA event for a year. She is focused on making the most of what her ailing body allows.
“Just doing everything I can to get the inflammation down,” Wie said. “Also, kind of working on different biomechanics, and trying to make my swing more sound . . . trying to figure out how I can move forward without aggravating it.”
Wie said earlier this year that she was inspired watching Tiger Woods overcome back surgery to win the Masters. She said watching the NBA Finals did the same for her. She accompanied her fiancé, Jonnie West, the Golden State Warriors director of basketball operations, during the finals.
“It was pretty inspiring, to see, actually, a tough series, lot of injuries and lot of people playing while they're injured,” she said. “I learned a lot from that, inspired by their tenacity and willingness to win, and doing whatever it takes to be out there. That’s actually what inspired me to be out here this week.”