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Opinion & Analysis

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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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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Opinion & Analysis

The differences between good and bad club fitters—and they’re not what you think

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
  • Lack of transparency: If you feel like you’re not getting answers to straightforward questions or a fitter tells you “not to worry about it” then that is a big no-no from me.
    Side note: It is my opinion that golfers should pay for fittings, and in a way consider it a knowledge-gathering session. Of course, the end goal for the golfer is to find newer better fitting clubs, and for the fitter to sell you them (let’s be real here), but you should never feel the information is not being shared openly.
  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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Podcasts

TG2: TaylorMade P7MB & P7MC Review | Oban CT-115 & CT-125 Steel Shafts

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Took the new TaylorMade P-7MB and P-7MC irons out on the course and the range. The new P-7MB and P-7MC are really solid forged irons for the skilled iron players. Great soft feel on both, MB flies really low, and the MC is more mid/low launch. Oban’s CT 115 & 125 steel shafts are some of the most consistent out there. Stout but smooth feel with no harsh vibration at impact.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Improve your transition for better wedge play

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In my opinion, one of the most misunderstood areas of the golf swing is the transition from backswing to downswing, but I don’t read much on this in the golf publications. So, here’s my take on the subject.

Whether it’s a short putt, chip or pitch, half wedge, full iron or driver swing, there is a point where the club’s motion in the backswing has to come to a complete stop–even if for just a nano-second–and reverse direction into the forward swing. What makes this even more difficult is that it is not just the club that is stopping and reversing direction, but on all but putts, the entire body from the feet up through the body core, shoulders, arms and hands.

In my observation, most golfers have a transition that is much too quick and jerky, as they are apparently in a hurry to generate clubhead speed into the downswing and through impact. But, just as you (hopefully) begin your backswing with a slow take-away from the ball, a proper start to the downswing is also a slower move, starting from this complete stop and building to maximum clubhead speed just past impact. If you will work on your transition, your ball striking and distance will improve, as will your accuracy on your short shots and putts. Let’s start there.

In your wedge play, your primary objective is to apply just the exact amount of force to propel the ball the desired distance. In order to do that, it makes sense to move the club slower, as that allows more precision. I like to think of the pendulum on a grandfather clock as a great guide to tempo and transition. As the weight goes back and forth, it comes to a complete stop at each end, and achieves maximum speed at the exact bottom of the arc. If you put that picture in your head when you chip and putt, you will develop a tempo that encourages a smooth transition at the end of the backswing.

The idea is to achieve a gradual acceleration from the end of the backswing to the point of impact, but for most golfers, this type of swing is likely much slower than yours is currently. I encourage you to not be in a hurry to force this acceleration, as that causes a quick jab with the hands, because the shoulder rotation and slight body rotation cannot move that quickly from its end-of-backswing rotation.

Here’s a drill to help you picture this kind of swing pace. Drawing on that grandfather clock visual, hold your wedge at the very end of the grip with two fingers, and get it moving like the clock pendulum–back and through. Watch the tempo and transition for a few moments, and then try to mimic that with your short or half swing tempo. No faster, no slower. You can even change how far you pull the club up to start this motion to see what happens to the pendulum tempo on longer swings.

An even better exercise is to have a friend hold a club in this manner right in front of you while you are practicing your chipping or pitching swing and try to “shadow” that motion with your swings. You will likely find that your transition is much too fast and jerky to give you the results you are after.

If you will practice this, I can practically guarantee your short-range transition will become really solid and repeatable. From there, it’s just a matter of extending the length of the swing to mid-range pitches, full short irons, mid-irons, fairway woods, and driver–all while feeling for that gradual transition that makes for great timing, sequencing, and tempo.

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