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.


Posted by Jeff at
10/03/2013 04:06 PM
The problem may well be the parents but I think it is the age these girls try to hit the big time turning pro at 16 like Lexi Thomson, Lidia Ko out there at 15, the same thing could very well happen to them, why so young what is wrong with turning pro at 20 - 21 when they are more mature. I am the father of a talented 19 year old golfer who hopes to one day turn pro but at the moment she is enjoying her youth and having fun as it should be.
Posted by H.Watts at
21/02/2013 06:42 PM
I agree with Louise (16/2/2013 1.51pm) - What a well written and insightful article. Post a copy to Mr & Mrs Wie. Where? C/o their daughter's address! Pete - another great piece from a product of Bendigo High!
Posted by Todd at
21/02/2013 01:48 PM
She's done. It's over. You just can't play poorly for this long and recover. At least she's pretty and has a great personality!
Posted by Peggy at
21/02/2013 07:26 AM
Remember when Michelle had Dave Stockton as her putting coach? She was amazing! So what broke up that relationship? Daddy? or Mommy?
Posted by Jerry M at
21/02/2013 04:13 AM
parents get the hell out of her face let her be her own person. She is not a baby anymore. parents you guys need a life of your own don't you have any other interests other than smothering your daughter?
Posted by Stacey at
19/02/2013 12:57 PM
I followed Michelle for many holes at 2012 Kia. Sad to watch parents on opposite ends of each green, even opposite sides of fairway. Mom wincing at every missed shot and Dad with binoculars just watching and walking away. Go Lydia Ko! The next hope...
Posted by Buz at
19/02/2013 06:40 AM
It looks like golf used to be nothing but fun for Michelle. Now that it's a job, it's not nearly as much fun. Used to be that she was always doing things she's not supposed to do like playing with the big boys and trying to make a cut or winning on the LPGA while still a full time student. Great expectations can be heavy burdens. She'll probably play great as soon as she thinks everybody is saying she's done.
Posted by Jon at
19/02/2013 05:38 AM
She needs to get away from the over bearing parents and do it on her own. Take a page Na Yeon Choi. Just go out a play don't think about her swing, she way to mechanical. Go have some fun with golf. She's got in her own kitchen!! Get a new coach Leadbetter is not working obviously.
Posted by Greg M at
19/02/2013 03:45 AM
It is sad to read the consensus of many is this unbelievably talented young lady could have her best golf behind her at the ripe old age of 23. I hope that isn't the case because I still believe she would be great for advancing women's golf. If I could offer her one piece of advice, it would be this. Go to a golf course you like, grab the first starting time, and go play...by yourself! No caddie, no entourage, nothing; just you and your equipment. No worries about swing mechanics, 3-putts, etc. Just hit, find it, and hit it again! Find the simple joy of golf and fall in love with the game again. And do this several times! That may be what it would take to hit the reset button and get things back on track. Anyway, my two-cents worth.
Posted by Dean at
19/02/2013 12:33 AM
Can Michelle ever reach her potential? She has, in my opinion, one chance left. But that would require her to cut the parent strings, send her parents back to Hawaii, and become her own person. She's not playing her own game, but her parents game. And they're not as good as she can be.
Posted by Ron at
19/02/2013 12:21 AM
a sad commentary on how her parent's took the FUN from her golf game. Hopefully a lesson for all superstars in the making. Hire quality people and then get out of their way!
Posted by Slowhand at
18/02/2013 11:10 PM
Like Peter Stone I was also at Royal Canberra and Friday I followed Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko and Yani Tseng. Wie's parents were present at every turn. It seems to be a Korean thing. There were Korean fathers all around "pushing" their daughters. Some of the daughters looked distressed to say the least. After Wie missed the cut she was waiting to be interviewed with her ever watchful mother standing guard. Wie clearly upset at missing the cut left the interview area before the interview and marched towards the car park parents and others following. I'm sure it is a familiar site at other LPGA tournaments. I'm not suggesting I know the answer to MW situation. Clearly there is a huge cultural thing going on. But what is clear is that 95% of the time MW plays fantastic golf. Then it all goes wrong. I have my views and I have a feeling it's something to do with self sabotage. But than I'm not a psychologist. What is clear is that this is very sad and an extremely talented person is being damaged. Na Yeon Choi sent her parents "home" to Korea a few years back so she could develop some independence. It clearly worked she is now ranked No. 2 in the world and won the US open. Perhaps there is a lesson there for Michelle Wie.
Posted by Louise at
16/02/2013 01:51 PM
What a well written and insightful article. Post a copy to Mr & Mrs Wie. Where? C/o their daughter's address!
Posted by Franklin Rizzo at
16/02/2013 12:31 PM
It's not her parents fault. Well not all. They did a great job with her, teaching her the swing and game of golf. But she has ALWAYS been mentally weak. Unlike Tiger Woods, she didn't have to climb every step of the ladder.... she was given things, handed exemptions. She always made excuses for her final round (or final hole) choke jobs. So often she was in the lead or close heading to Sunday's final rounds... and she gagged like Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters. She used school as her excuse the past 5+ years. It's not her parents fault. She's a headcase.
Posted by Richard at
16/02/2013 09:57 AM
Someone should take all that money Michelle Wie has in the bank and give it to the new rising star Lydia Ko. New Zealand will not disapoint, you will be seeing alot more of Lyds!!! GO KIWI
Posted by Austin Curtis PGA Golf Coach at
16/02/2013 03:40 AM
Great article on Miss Wie , I hope we have now turned the corner and getting away from such technical coaching and regimented parenting , parents should support they are providing the water for the plant to grow , such a shame this flower has died off , Michael Hebron respected golf coach and someone whos opinion I value summed it up recently when the research around technology proved that little of it is of any benefit to the learning process its just there because its possible to make such devices , read some of the old classic golf instruction books by Percy Boomer and Ernest Jones , these guys were on the right lines years ago.
Posted by Tommy at
16/02/2013 02:09 AM
She did not play on the men's circuit for several years. She got sponsor invitations to a number of men's events, where she mostly finished near last place. The only men's tournament in which she made the cut was a rain-shortened tournament on the low-tier men's Asian Tour.
Posted by Paul at
15/02/2013 11:27 PM
Sad for Michelle? Yep. Sadder still for her parents...may they hang their heads in shame, lining their own pockets at the expense of a normal life for their daughter. And that's what money has done for sport.....has anyone seen any joy on the face of this girl? There's no joy, it's all about money. Let Michelle Wie be a lesson to all parents of talented youngsters.
Posted by Graham at
15/02/2013 10:03 PM
But, can anyone explain why Michelle played on the men's circuit for several years - making one cut I think - and breaking her self confidence, making no money and proving what? Other than men are stronger and better at playing long holes and tough courses.
Posted by Mike at
15/02/2013 09:27 PM
All us golf fans hope the Lydia Ko can be a kid for the next years. Do things kids do. Enjoy life. Party up a little. Be ... normal. Be grounded! Turn pro when or if she want to. Peter Stone's article is evidence of what can go wrong to prodigious talent.
Posted by Craig at
15/02/2013 08:48 PM
I sad that she is 23 years old and her parents can't let go. I am sure there are younger girls out there this week who's parents are happily watching back home in the US, without putting so much pressure on their children to succeed.

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