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Weaning Wie — It’s time to let her go

by   |   August 3, 2012
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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

About

Zak is the Managing Editor of GolfWRX.com.

He's been a part of the company since 2012, when he was hired to develop GolfWRX's front page. Since that time, GolfWRX has become the go-to destination on the web for golf equipment news, tour news, instruction and opinion.

Zak also developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers who want to improve their skills and allows established golf professionals to communicate directly with readers.

He played college golf at the University of Richmond, where he took too many strokes. Good thing he also studied journalism and creative writing.

You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss all the cool gear and insider info that's part of his job.


18 Comments

  1. Ron

    December 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

    November 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!

    September 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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

    August 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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