by Jeff Skinner
Michelle Wie has played the Ko-Olina golf course hundreds of time. It’s her home course and she is their adopted daughter. But yesterday’s round was definitely the most significant round she ever played on her favorite course. In fact, it may be the most important round of her life.
Wie shot an essentially perfect 67 in the final round of the LPGA Lotte Championship to earn her third LPGA title and continue her resurgence in 2014. Winning at home and in front of a very large and very supportive local crowd Wie was almost speechless afterwards. “I’m so happy, I can’t think straight,” Wie said “It’s a dream come true.”
The hometown girl overtook final round leader Angela Stanford who had a four shot lead to start the round. But Stanford struggled and finished behind the charging Wie. Wie had all her shots and used her experience at Ko-Olina to fashion a near perfect round hitting 15 of 18 greens and 28 putts. One of those putts was a missed two footer at 17 and an inconsequential short putt at the last when the win was already in the books.
Wie has been in the spotlight so long it is easy to forget that she is only 24 years old. On the national stage at 13 the amazingly gifted Wie started a run of unimaginable play with six top five finishes in LPGA majors by the time she was 16. Her career upside was limitless but missteps like concentrating on playing with the PGA Tour instead of winning own her own levels sidetracked her progress.
Injuries also hurt Wie and many even criticized her for attending college full time instead of concentrating on her golf career. When she did graduate from Stanford and was playing full time she promptly went out and fell flat missing 10 cuts in 23 starts. That was then and this is now.
Now is a new and improved Michelle Wie. We see a Wie that has developed her own putting style, certainly unique among all tours. We see a Wie that has formed her own view on swing coaches and teaching styles, she refuses to look at her swing on video now relying on “how it feels.” That’s a true departure from the David Leadbetter school of thought but a successful one. We see a Wie that develops her on course game plan and sticks with it. We see a Wie that leaves her driver in the bag and opts for a Tiger-Like Stinger 3-wood that bisects fairway after fairway. We see a Wie that has throttled back her long game with the driver (47th in driving distance) and rather hit more greens. It has worked as she leads the tour in Greens in Regulation at 81%.
More importantly we see a newly relaxed and confident Michelle Wie on the course in 2014. Two weeks ago at the Kraft Nabisco LPGA Championship Wie and winner Lexi Thompson went head to head in a showcase of the future for the LPGA. While Wie fell short she displayed grace and humility towards her competitor and friend.
All of us have witnessed a young girl who, for whatever reason, was put in the spotlight, thrust into untenable situations for an adult, no less a teenager and subjected to pressure and expectations that would have crushed many a soul. And maybe it did. Maybe Michelle’s insistence in attending college was her release, her escape from the world of pressure and expectations. It afforded her the chance to be a college kid and not a phenom.
Call it maturity, call it confidence, call it a young woman that is now comfortable with herself and willing to say no to outside pressures and do things her own way.
At the end of 2013 she took a five week vacation from the game and didn’t swing a club. What emerged from that hiatus was a newly refreshed and “reborn” player if you will: a player that is happy to be on the course again and happy to be playing a game again and not a job.
Michelle Wie has already lived a lifetime in the spotlight and the first few chapters had been fraught with plenty of pain and heartache. But these next chapters she is about to write look to be filled with joy, happiness and victories. She’s off to a great start and this win at home could just be the start of many great things to come.