PHOENIX – Michelle Wie is golf’s version of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
She’s a puzzle as a player, even unto herself, and she’s more than OK with that.
She revels in the wonder of a life that has taken her on so many unexpected twists and turns, through so many highs and lows. She revels in how her crazy journey has helped her know herself in the most important way. She revels in knowing what she can overcome.
“I definitely don’t want to go back down again,” Wie said of her myriad slumps, injuries and illnesses. “You never know what life will bring you. I just know that I can pull myself out of it. I definitely have a lot of confidence from that, just knowing from experience that I can.”
Wie arrives back on top for this week’s LPGA Founders Cup, where she will be looking to win back-to-back events after claiming the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start. It was her fifth LPGA title, her first since she won the U.S. Women’s Open four years ago.
While Wie is feeling good about her game again, she is taking nothing for granted.
“The first thing I said to my agents and everyone was, `Let’s just simmer down on the expectations and the hype and everything,’” Wie said. “I’ve just been keeping quiet. I just want to let my game show.”
Wie was asked what her goals are for the rest of the year.
“To keep my organs in my body,’ she cracked.
That was a reference to the emergency appendectomy she underwent late last summer, a procedure that derailed some good momentum.
While Wie is taking care not to feed expectations, she won’t deny being excited about what’s possible this year.
“I always think the best is in front of me,” Wie said. “That’s why I practice and work so hard. It makes me really excited for this year and the future.”
Wie is especially excited about her putting.
Once the real weakness of her game, putting is becoming a strength. She ranks eighth on the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation this season. She was 120th in putts per GIR just two seasons ago.
“I’ve worked really hard on my putting,” Wie said. “It feels good that it’s paying off.
“It definitely affects the rest of the game. If you feel comfortable with your putting, it helps you be more aggressive with your irons. I think it takes a little pressure off your irons, knowing that even if you don’t stick it in 3 feet, you have a good chance of making it. It definitely takes the pressure off your driver.”
Wie’s stats are up across the board this year, with the improved putting and a dependable fade making her dangerous again. It’s early, but she is fourth in scoring average (69.0), 10th in greens in regulation and 16th in driving distance.
The HSBC Women’s World Championship came down to Wie’s putting. She broke a four-way tie for the lead with a 36-foot birdie putt at her last hole. She called it the best putt of her life.
“I think being confident with your putter, it brings a different mindset into the game,” Wie said.
David Leadbetter, Wie’s coach, sees that.
“Her putting is filtering into everything else,” Leadbetter said.
Wie’s putting is a classic example of the riddle/mystery/enigma of her game, and how she embraces it.
A year ago, Wie revamped her putting stroke yet again, moving farther away from that awkward table-top putting stroke she once used. While she moved into a more classic upright stance, her new stroke had its classic Wie idiosyncrasies. She rotated from a conventional grip to claw grip to left-hand low, not just within a single round, but sometimes on a single green.
At the HSBC Women’s World Championship two weeks ago, Wie was down to just two grips, rotating from conventional to left-hand low. She said she doesn’t know what grip she’s going to use until she’s over the putt. It’s all about what feels right.
“It just goes by her moods,” Leadbetter said. “There’s no rhyme or reason. Even if you asked her, she wouldn’t be able to tell you why she does it.”
Wie was asked Tuesday what plan she had for gripping the club this week.
“I really can’t say what I’m going to do,” Wie said. “I can’t promise anything. I say something in a press conference, and I do something else. I’m just going to say, `I don’t know.’ We’ll see.”
Her approach defies convention, even logic. There would seem to be so much uncertainty in rotating grips, that it would invite doubts to flood the brain.
That’s not how it’s working for her, though. It’s just the opposite. She is so confident with this new style and stroke.
Leadbetter says while her grip changes, her setup doesn’t anymore. While Wie’s tinkering can be maddening to Leadbetter, he says she is remarkably consistent with the way she makes the stroke, no matter the grip.
“The setup is the same, the posture is the same,” Leadbetter said. “It’s just a matter of her feeling comfortable with her hands.”
Leadbetter said Wie made a conscious effort to focus more on feel in the offseason. He put her through a series of performance drills to help her focus on that.
“I think, essentially, over the years, she has been too mechanical with the putting,” Leadbetter said. “I think the fact she is getting a little less technical and more feel oriented is a really good thing. I’m happy she’s getting into these performance drills, rather than trying to make a perfect strike all the time.”
Wie isn’t sure what this week will bring, but she can’t wait to find out.
“Just because I won last week doesn’t guarantee I’ll play well this week,” she said. “I am just going to go with the mindset that it’s a fresh start, beginning of the West Coast swing, a swing that I really do love. Just going to have fun out there, try to post some low scores, and just stay healthy.”