Wie: A phenomenal talent stifled

Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie

B.J. Wie stood behind the line of players on the Royal Canberra practice range checking the time on his watch and then glancing over his shoulder. His daughter Michelle’s caddie Mark Wallington stood beside him checking the yardage book and pin placement sheet for Friday’s second round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

Who’s to guess whether she was running late or not? If she was, it was best she was, as there was no berths left and, on arrival, she was kept waiting for five minutes or so before securing a spot on the far right. To pass the time, she did some back stretching exercises.

Little wonder because of the way she now putts, but we’ll come to that later.

Wie’s mother Bo, a former South Korean amateur champion, stood to the side watching her every swing while B.J., a Professor of Transportation at the University of Hawaii, stood behind. He seemed to be the silent partner in the parental guidance of their now 23-year-old daughter while mum did the talking.

Bo, at one stage, strode to Wie’s golf bag and took out a long stick. Now, don’t get worried, Michelle wasn’t about to get a caning. It was a teaching aid.

Bo stood beside her daughter and placed the stick on the left side of her head to keep it down and without movement as she swung through the ball. She continued her warm-up regime, often calling for Wallington to throw her one of her tournament balls instead of those provided on the practice range just to check the flight of the ball she was soon to use.

There’s no worry about running out of ammunition. On turning professional she was signed by Nike for a figure other young players, but less talented, only dream about winning in their entire careers.

The Wie ensemble then moved to the practice putting green where Bo stationed herself on the green while B.J. stood in the background. At one stage, he took binoculars out of the backpack and focussed on his daughter 20 metres away. What was he checking? Her hands, their tension – who knows, one wasn’t about to interrupt proceedings to ask.

Through the years, Wie has been tormented by her putting. She’s tried half a dozen or so different putting styles and grips, she’s tried the belly putter. Now she is using a quite bizarre stance that sees her bending over with her back almost parallel to the ground. If Laura Davies should try it, she’d probably topple to the ground.

It was reported at a recent tournament in Dubai Michelle was seen on the putting green with mum holding her head down, her father adjusting and positioning the line of her putter addressing the ball, and just to complete the exercise the caddie was voicing his opinion of the stroke.

Last year, Michelle completed her degree majoring in communication at Stanford University and when she first went to the alma mater of Tiger Woods her parents moved to northern California to be nearby. It’s been written that they rang her in her dormitory practically every night in her freshman year. Now, Wie has bought a home at Jupiter in Florida and the parents have apparently moved in with her.

One has to feel sorry for her. Warren Sevil, the chief executive of the ALPG for 15 years, certainly does. He knows more about the global game of women’s golf than anyone else in Australia, and it tears him apart to see her not recognise her full potential.

We talked at length on Friday of the enigma that is Michelle Wie.

“The expectations of Michelle were huge. When she was 13 years, 14 and 15 you had some of the top golfers in the world like Fred Couples making the comment that this girl has the best swing in golf – man or woman. Her amateur record suggested that she would progress towards her winning multi, multi events because she was just way beyond and above the talent of most of the players on the tour,” Sevil said.

“So, I suppose everyone in recent years is looking back and saying, ‘What the hell went wrong?’ Why has she only won two LPGA events, what is it that’s held her back? It hasn’t really been injuries.

“She’s been a massive disappointment for everyone. Everyone talks about it but little has been printed, no one says it to the press. If you asked 100 of the players, 95 of them would all come up with the same answer. The fact is she’s just been completely smothered by her management and parents and, as Gary Player would say, it is paralysis by analyses, and it’s ridiculous.

“What goes into Michelle’s game in terms of her coaching (her coach is David Leadbetter) and course management is well …” Sevil trailed off seeking the words.

“Look, she’s had all the best caddies in the world on her bag, but every one of those caddies has not been allowed to do their job in terms of club selection and reading greens because that’s been determined by someone else prior to her round.

“Here’s a girl who was naturally talented in every way but so many changes have been made to her swing that have stifled her natural ability. And then there’s the latest putting stroke which frankly, well, is a little extreme.

“I’ve been involved in the (women’s) game for more than 20 years, and been to countless tournaments on all Tours, played with all the top players, except Michelle, but I’ve seen her on the range and the putting green on numerous occasions and it’s just a circus. I think you’ll find that players and fans would agree.

“Let the girl go and let her natural talent shine through. Cut the strings and just let her out there and let her be the natural Michelle Wie. My fear is that it is just too late. I’m saying right now, but everyone else is saying it. It’s too late I think.

“I’d like to hope it’s not because I’m a huge fan of hers. I saw her at 13 and thought this girl will be No 1 at 18. She’s now 23 and the expectation of everyone is that she would have won 15-20 times by now. No one on this planet has had such huge potential talent.

“What went wrong is clear. As Laura Davies has said to me, someone has killed the golden goose. Early on in Michelle’s career there was a lot of jealously from the female players about all the attention Michelle was getting.

“But, Laura was saying to all these knockers: ‘Are you stupid? This girl could be potentially lining all of our pockets with money. She could be the greatest and all the money she attracts will trickle down to us and we’ll be all playing for a lot more money so we should be welcoming her and applauding everything she does.’

“It’s a shame. She has just been smothered into oblivion I think,” Sevil concluded.

Unfortunately, oblivion was the operative word in the first two rounds. Wie was clearly at odds with her swing, epitomised by the way she hung her head when her second shot to the nigh unreachable par 5 477-metres 18th went left into the trees. She managed her par 5 but signed for a level par 73 for a one over 36 tally of 147 to miss the cut by two shots.

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