Michelle Wie: In a Good Place Now

Not a lot of quality mastery points coming out of the Memorial Tournament yet; they had a rain delay and couldn’t get all the groups done before nightfall. So they’ll be firing it up at 7:30 AM and the officials estimate that they have about an hour and a half of golf to finish everybody up. At that point, they’ll make the cut — it’s 3-over right now with 72 players making the cut if nothing changes — and get the third round started as soon as possible off the 1st and 10th tees.

Bill Haas (-9) is in the clubhouse with a 3-shot lead over Matt Kuchar (-6) who is also finished. And there’s a bunch of talent right behind them with a few holes to go: Charl Schwartzel, Bubba Watson and Kyle Stanley (-6) and Scott Stallings (-5).

But my attention was caught by Michelle Wie finishing 4th in the first round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic on the Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway, New Jersey, just outside of Atlantic City. 

To be sure, Amanda Blumenherst, deserves some kudos for fighting through years-long doldrums to finish T1 on the day and to the juggernaut, Stacy Lewis, the defending champion, tucking herself neatly into 3rd, one stroke back.

But Wie is this sort of semi-tragic figure who burst into our awareness with her powerful golf game capable of playing with men if she wanted to, so said Ernie Els and Fred Couples after playing practice rounds with her at the 2006 Sony Open when she got in on a sponsors exemption. She was 16 at the time.

So as great as her talent was, she still had some years to develop it before she would be eligible for the LPGA Tour. She spoke openly about one day wanting to play in the Masters and went on to turn professional just before her 16th birthday. That opened the door for all of the endorsement deals such as Nike that would follow. But it also obviated a chance to play for Stanford University, attending there a long-held aspiration.

As her career began to tread water amid spurts of brilliance in the Solheim Cup, cynics began harping on her parents implying that they were “golf-parent gold diggers,” a charge Michelle vigorously refuted.

Cynics were upset that Wie didn’t follow the “normal” career path of winning at her age group against her gender in larger and larger tournaments. Instead, she went right to the larger and larger tournaments playing against men in 14 tournaments: 8 on the PGA Tour, 2 on the Japan Golf Tour, 1 on the European Tour, 1 on the Asian Tour, 1 on the Nationwide (Buy.com) Tour and 1 on the Canadian Tour where she struggled to make cuts and was largely unsuccessful

But shouldn’t we let people live their dreams the way they want to live their dreams? Some would say, sure, but don’t whine when she can’t win on the LPGA Tour. She’s not whining, she’s living her life and she has won twice, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and the Canadian Open. Yeah, but, the cynics would argue, Ochoa’s event wasn’t a full-field event and the Canadian was well, in Canada. Yeah, but the whole of the Tour’s stars were there and Wie won by 3 shots.

So just a lot of nagging humdrum like that as if these people have nothing better to do with their lives than criticize Wie’s. Hey, she’s rich, she’s won LPGA tournaments, she has a degree from Stanford and she’s happy. Isn’t that enough?

In the meantime, Wie is working toward consistently playing at higher and higher levels; she has always known her talent.

Yeah, the main thing I focused on was just staying patient today.  I was really just thinking one shot at a time, not really thinking too far ahead or getting ahead of myself.  I think I did a good job of that and I really have to do that for the next two days.

Her current nemesis is her putting, but she has a masterful approach to this week’s tricky, undulating greens:

Yeah, I think that’s why I have to stay patient over here.  It’s really hard to read the putts, and a lot of times you hit good putts and it hits the slope and doesn’t go in.  So you have to know that you hit good putts and just focus on that.

Her attitude helped her make two nice saves on 1 and 2 and not get upset when she couldn’t at 11 an 12:

Yeah, like I said before, it’s just a matter of being patient.  On the first hole I hit it in the fescue and just really got to take it one shot at a time, not really think too far ahead or not thinking of anything else but that shot, and I think I did a very good job of that today.

The two bogeys that I had back‑to‑back on the back nine, I hit good shots, just got a little bit unlucky, and same thing there.  I know I hit good shots, I know I hit good putts, and move on to the next hole.

This is the 10th anniversary of her first appearance in this tournament when she was just 13 years old:

I can’t believe it’s 10 years already.  I feel so lucky of all the experiences I’ve had the last 10 years, playing this event.  I know it was always one of my favorites coming out here when I was 13, 14, just being in awe, just like you just look up to these players when you’re growing up and you’re actually warming up next to them on the driving range.  It’s a pretty cool feeling to have.

I’m so grateful for everything that the sponsors have — all the experience that they let me have, and by believing in me and giving me sponsor exemptions and letting me have those experiences, it’s pretty great.  I still try to keep that same mindset.  I do still feel very grateful that I’m out here, that I’m out here playing in tournaments, so I just always try to keep that in mind and just really put things in perspective.

When she thought of her career path as a 16 year old, what did she plan for herself and how did it turn out?

You know, I think nothing really goes exactly the way you plan.  There may be hiccups in the way and little adjustments along the way, and I think I did that.  College was always in my game plan; always from day one I always wanted to go to Stanford, and I achieved one of my biggest dreams of going.  I’m just so happy that I went.

Of all the experiences that I’ve had, good and bad, I feel like I’ve learned from them, I feel like I am who I am now, just because of that, so I’m very grateful.

Fine and dandy, but when the rubber meets the road Saturday morning on the 1st tee, what then?

Yeah, you know, I think the big thing for me is not to really look too far ahead.  I think tomorrow No.1 tee all I’m going to think about is the first shot and for every shot just really be in the moment.  I think that’s going to be a big key for me this week and the rest of the year.

But what about all of these cynical critics? Does she ever just want to tell them to go take a hike?

I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  I think that everyone makes their own opinion, and that’s fine.  I have my opinions about people, and it’s totally valid.  I think that it is what it is.  I try not to listen to it as much as I can, but it’s just — you can’t please everyone.  I’m not going to go around my way living my life trying to please everyone because in the end it doesn’t really matter.  They’re not the ones that are living my life.  They’re not the ones that ultimately are in my life.  So I just am so grateful for my friends, my family and for the people inside my circle that believe in me.

And everyone else, I do want to be a role model, do good things for me, but you just can’t please everyone.

Her play has been up and down through the year with missed cuts and rounds in the 60s. Is her game finally coming into its own?

Well, I think I’ve been putting a lot of hard work in in the off‑season, and I do believe it’s coming.  I think I’ve just been close to playing really well, and like I said, I just have to be patient.  I know if I put the work in, I know I can do it.  I just have to be patient and let it happen, not force it or anything.

To recap, please yourself, be patient and let it happen.

A lot of wisdom collected over these fleeting years.

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