One of the clearest signs for a professional golfer that you are not playing well is having a lot of free time on the weekend. Michelle Wie has had plenty of free weekends lately as she missed her third straight cut on the LPGA tour this past week. The Lotte Championship is being contested at the Ko Olina Golf Club just outside of Honolulu, and is the course that Wie grew up on. One would never have known that she has spent countless rounds at the tree-lined course when she posted 78-76 to put her +10 for the tournament after the first two days. She missed the cut by 6 shots and scored only better than twelve other players in the field of 144.
Wie’s year started out fair enough with a T-38th in Thailand followed by a T-59th in Singapore. Not much was made of the slow start considering she was wrapping up her final exams as she prepares to graduate from Stanford this June. When she joined the tour for their domestic run in San Diego at the Kia Classic, it was hopeful that we would see a fully dedicated Michelle with her studies now behind her. She missed the cut by a mile finishing +12 in her two rounds and then continued to struggle at the first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. A round one 73 at the Kraft was followed by a 77 which kept her from contending in a tournament where she has had a lot of previous success.
The missed cut however in Hawaii is probably the most unnerving. Despite her recent struggles Wie was still looked at as one of the favorites at the beginning of the week. With the hometown support and local knowledge of the course it figured to be a great week to get her game back on track. It was not to be and after the two days Wie seemed extremely frustrated at the state of her game.
The past four and a half years Wie has found a way to juggle the demands of attending an elite university while playing professional golf. Though she hasn’t lived up to the hype she generated as a teenager when she was pegged as the “female Tiger”, she still has had a solid career. She has two tour wins and close to $2.5 million in earnings since she joined the LPGA in 2009. And the money she has earned off the course numbers in the millions as she carries many sponsors.
While this may just be Wie getting off to a rocky start and needing some time to right the ship, it is unsettling that she has only broken par once this year. Her body language shows a discouraged golfer and at times she looks completely lost on the course. The obvious area of trouble is and has always been her putting. Just a few weeks ago she discarded her belly putter and returned to a more conventional model. There has yet to be a drastic improvement as she recorded 34 putts in her first round and 30 in her second. Putting wasn’t her only problem as she hit only half of her fairways and found herself in parts of the golf course she probably hasn’t ever played from before. She is a far cry from the prodigy that burst onto the golf scene as a teenager willing to tee it up with both the men and women.
Some critics point to her ever-present parents B.J. and Bo who are rarely missing from her side. They had a house just off campus while she attended Stanford and don’t seem to be cutting ties anytime soon. Wie recently bought a new house in Jupiter, FL that she will be sharing with them. Early in her career it is felt that they put too much pressure on her to compete with the men when she had yet to prove she could even hang with the ladies. For Wie going to college was a way to “normalize” a life that has been spent in the spotlight and it was often felt that her parents were the ones shoving her into that spotlight. Full of talent from such a young age one has to wonder if Wie has pursued golf only because she has been good at it, not because she loves it.
All athletes throughout their careers will hit points that make them question their passion for their sport. In 2006 Wie hit a similar rough patch. She had turned pro that year but was seeking to prove her mettle against the men. She missed 11 out of 12 cuts on various men’s tours and one can only imagine the discouragement she faced during that period. The next few years were humbling for Wie as she then began to focus more on the women’s tour. It seemed to make her a better golfer though, and when she joined the LPGA in 2009 she did it the hard way by earning her spot in Q-school. But the past couple years have been spent watching the rise of World No.1 Yani Tseng and her collection of five major titles by the age of 22. It was assumed that Wie would be the one holding up all that hardware just a few years ago.
After the Kraft Nabisco Wie spoke about winning. “Obviously, I want to win more,” Wie said. “I mean, that’s a big thing. I feel like it’s been pretty mediocre so far. I want to be the best player that I can be and the best in general, and obviously, it’s going to be a fun ride from here on out.”
By all accounts it seems that the fun appears to be missing from her game. The joy and love for the sport are not evident when she plays right now. Perhaps if she finds her passion for the game again, then the wins will follow. There is no question that Wie has the talent to compete with the best golfers in the world. Whether or not she wants to though is what remains to be seen.