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Weaning Wie — It’s time to let her go

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By Zak Kozuchowski

GolfWRX Managing Editor 

Jim Nantz called it “a win for the ages.” A 21-year-old Tiger Woods blew away the 1997 Masters field by 12 shots with a record-setting score of 18-under par. After sinking his final putt, Tiger walked off the green and shared a hug for the ages with his late father, Earl Woods.

No matter what you feel about Woods, it’s hard not to appreciate that moment. With his first Masters win, he changed golf forever. He made the game cool, bringing to golf countless athletes of all races who otherwise may have never thought to pick up a golf club. And with him every step of the way – molding his mental toughness, supporting him through the pressures of his superstar status, was Earl.

Michelle Wie shared a similar journey as Woods in her junior career.  At age 10, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, becoming the youngest-ever female golfer to do so. In 2003 at the age of 13, Wie become the youngest player to make an LPGA cut at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Her talent earned her a sponsor’s exemption to the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in 2005, where she fired a second-round 68 to miss the cut by a single shot. At 14, it was assumed that Wie would not only dominate the LPGA Tour as Woods did the PGA Tour, but that her prodigious length might allow her to be competitive on the PGA Tour as well.

Wie turned professional at age 16, and like Woods, signed a lucrative endorsement contract with Nike. Just as Woods, she also attended Stanford University, although her professional status kept her from competing in collegiate golf. But that is where the similarities between Woods and Wie end.

Now 23, Wie has been a major disappointment on the LPGA Tour. She has won only two tournaments and is still without a major title. Her run at PGA Tour events was questioned after her poor play at the 2007 Sony Open, where she missed the cut by 14 shots.

Since that time, the spotlight on the LPGA Tour has shifted from Wie to several other young talents, who are accomplishing feats that were expected of Wie.

Last year, Lexi Thompson became the youngest LPGA Tour player to win an event at the age of 16 (Wie wasn’t an LPGA Tour winner until the age of 20). Morgan Pressel became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour major at the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship at the age of 18, and Yani Tseng, who is a few months younger than Wie, already has five LPGA major titles and 10 other wins on the LPGA Tour.

There is plenty to criticize about Wie’s game, especially a lack of confidence with the putter. She has experimented with a belly putter, changing the way she holds the putter several times, once famously in the middle of a competitive round.

But the most easily criticized part of her game, however, is the lack of separation between Wie and her parents. Unlike the relationship between Woods and his father, a bond which was thought to be an important part of Woods’ success, Wie’s relationship with her father B.J. has been seen as a hindrance.

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Wie has had enormous setbacks in her career. Early on, there were her ill-advised attempts to compete on the PGA Tour, an experiment that resulted in 11 out of 12 missed cuts (her one made cut occurred at a low-level Japan Golf Tour event). She has also suffered through multiple wrist injuries, and a dubious withdraw after 16 holes from the Ginn Tribute in 2007 where she was in jeopardy of losing LPGA Tour playing privileges for that year as she approached a round of 88.

It’s hard to say what exactly has derailed Wie’s career so far. By accepting sponsor’s exemptions to PGA Tour events, and only playing in the LPGA Tour’s largest events at a young age, she was rarely in a position to succeed. In his youth, Tiger Woods only played in events that he thought he could win. Wie, however, was placed in situations where making the cut was an accomplishment.

Despite Wie’s talents, she is not in the top 5 of any of the LPGA Tour’s statistical categories. While she’s currently ranked ninth in driving distance, she is ranked outside the top 100 in every other category with the exception of GIR (86th) and sand saves (97th). She’s currently 41st in the LPGA Rolex Rankings and on the bubble to qualify for the U.S. Solheim Cup team.

 

As Bobby Jones said, “Golf is mostly played on a six-inch course, the space between your ears.” For Wie, the most important course may be creating more than a 6-foot space from her parents.

It is said that a watched pot never boils. Likewise, an over-analyzed golfer rarely reaches his or her full potential. Wie graduated from Stanford last spring, and is at the time of her career where most LPGA Tour stars are expected to flourish. But because of Wie’s early success, it feels as though she is on the downside of her career. But she doesn’t have to be.

After a tough round, all golfers need a little breathing room. It gives them a chance to reflect and move forward. Since Wie first attracted the world’s spotlight, I doubt she has ever had any breathing room. And as the pictures from last week’s Evian Masters show, she certainly doesn’t have any now. Maybe it’s time she’s given some, especially by those closest to her.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour talk” forum.

You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz and GolfWRX @GolfWRX

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Ron

    Dec 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Her parents and Nike ruined her, trying to compete with men, forcing her to over swing to try to meet the men in driving, which is impossible.

    She is now so screwed up she rarely hits even par.

  2. Dave

    Nov 13, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Michelle Wie would probably play better golf if her parents would stay at home. They create too much pressure for her. I’ve worked 7 LPGA tournaments that she has competed in and her parents walk every hole with her. He watches with binoculars and makes notes. They are both on the practise putting green with her before tournamets while the other girls might have a caddie with them but usually by themselves. They smother her.
    The other girls talk about her and have been heard calling her queenie.
    At the Ochoa Invitational last week, of the 36 girls playing there were 10 girls Michelle’s age or younger and they’re not in the same situation. The parents should give her some space and let her breathe.

  3. Yo!

    Sep 1, 2012 at 12:30 am

    I’d say she’s doing pretty well … A big contract fron Nike and no pressure to succeed. She’s already rich at her age and she is still very young. Also, what do you guys know about her relationship with her parents while looking at things from left field?

  4. kurt andrews

    Aug 23, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Has anyone given any thought to the fact that maybe Michelle Wie wants her parents to travel with her?

  5. Phil

    Aug 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I wonder if her Dad would like to know what I’d like to do with and to her?

  6. ed williams

    Aug 14, 2012 at 6:27 am

    My wife and I go to a few LPGA tourneys every year..Her parents follow her around like wolves..We’ve seen recently where she has snapped at them during the practice rounds..The father follows her around the course..Always 3 or 4 paces behind her..Her Mom stays on the cart path but always even with Michelle when she’s hitting..You can see Michelle trying to ignore them..Look at how well Michelle played at the Solheim a couple of years back when parents weren’t allowed to be with the players..There is definitely a major problem there..She is so unhappy with them around..You can see it on her face..

  7. steve76t

    Aug 14, 2012 at 1:26 am

    I totally agree with this article. Its been a couple years now, but I followed Michelle’s group at the Reno Tahoe Open a couple years ago. Here mom wasn’t too big an issue as she’d watch from a distance. Most of the time she’d be a half hole head of her. Watched the tee shots from 300 yrds down the fairway or be greenside on the par 3’s. Her dad on the otherhand was never more than 10yrds from Michelle. Even worse, in my opinion, was that Michelle’s dad had a comment for EVERY shot she made. Good or bad. Turned the ball over a little too much & dad would say something like ‘you were a little too flat on that swing’… or on a good shot you’d hear him say something like ‘nice shot! you’ll need to cut it a little more on the next tee’.
    Dad is the one who needs to back off from what I saw. Maybe he could watch from half a hole away like mom did at the RTO? Problem is that I doubt that pops really wants any distance & he’s probably convinced himself that he’s her best influence in her quest to get better. Won’t know until he actually does back off and let her go…

  8. doug bear

    Aug 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    seriously…. are you asians out there sayiny you are the only ones with parental tendecies. How racist or immature can you be ?

  9. doug bear

    Aug 13, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Please let her go…. like out of u.s.a. She is nothing but a baby and will always be a baby. If not given a silver spoon by Nike I am sure she would have been a democratic tax taker.

  10. Devin

    Aug 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Slim and Ben have it right. Passion is all that is lacking from Michelle’s career – play golf on her own terms. S isn’t wrong either…I have a keen understanding of Korean culture, and there’s certainly a desire there to protect and nurture.

    What is needed to take Michelle to the next level is a head coach, and certainly some space from the parents (no disrespect meant at all to Mr & Mrs Wie). Michelle is a world-class golfer waiting to happen, but her head isn’t in it…YET. When it gets there, she’ll dominate. I look forward to seeing it happen.

  11. cltambo

    Aug 10, 2012 at 10:39 am

    You can have all the physical talent in the world, which she does, but you also have to have the desire and mental capacity. Just listen to the different in the interviews between Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson. Michelle sounds like a teenage girl playing golf for a living and Lexi sounds like a professional golfer.

  12. Slim

    Aug 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I question Michelle’s desire. She may have become bored with the game, and she is already wealthy. She loved her time in college, which was probably pretty normal. It seems to me she’s lost her passion for the game.

  13. Ben

    Aug 4, 2012 at 3:51 am

    There is a lot of truth in this article. The comment that an over-analyzed golfer rarely reaches his or her potential. She has taken a lot of criticism from the media which in my opinion has really taken a toll on her mentally and it has leaked a lot into her golf game. I think she needs to cut all her coaches and just play golf on her own terms, how she thinks it should be played.

  14. Troy Vayanos

    Aug 3, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Nice post Zak,

    Yes I agree she needs some space to grow and let her natural talent flourish. It’s like everywhere she goes there is someone in her ear telling her what to do.

    A little bit of space and time to herself could be just the tonic to see her golf really take off.

  15. Donald

    Aug 3, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    She needs to get away from David Ledbetter too. Learn how to just play and not be so mechanical. She’s to talented.

  16. S

    Aug 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    As I am asian and parents, I understand where her parents come from. They try to protect her and try to helpher in good intention. However, I do believe after high school age, kids need to start taking responsibilities, protecting themself and having own idea and actions.They may make mistakes, but that is ok which make them stronger person. It is not too late for her parents to let her go little. but mentaly they need to be there for her when she really needs help.

  17. Bill Miller

    Aug 3, 2012 at 9:27 am

    It should be obvious to anyone with a functioning brain that her parents haven’t a clue about nurturing a young talent. And I don’t think they are doing it for her either. It’s all about them.

    They’ve pretty much ruined that young lady. I seriously doubt she will ever amount to much now.

  18. Patrick

    Aug 3, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Completely agree. She’s not 12 years old anymore, she’s a grown woman and it’s time the parents let her live her life and get their own.

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Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole

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In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.

Click here to listen on iTunes!

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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