Needless to say, the expectation that Michelle Wie would by now have become the Tiger Woods of the LPGA Tour hasn’t gone according to plan.
Ranked as high as third in the world rankings one year after she turned pro at 15, Wie, now 24, hasn’t won in three years and was ranked 65th heading into this weekend’s year-ending CME Group Titleholders in Naples.
Wie has her reasons. From 2007-12 she was a student at Stanford, where she earned a degree in communications. A wrist injury suffered at age 17 took a long time to heal.
But Wie, whose home base for the past two years has been her residence at Bear’s Club in Jupiter, is showing signs of moving up the ladder. Her scoring average has dropped from 73.5 last year to 71.8 this year, her earnings have more than doubled, from $158,546 and $329,005, and she’s posted four top-10 finishes compared to one in 2012.
“It’s about being patient,” she said after a midweek pro-am. “You can’t force these things. All you can do is try your hardest, work really hard, and that’s what I’ve been doing every day.”
Meg Mallon of Delray Beach demonstrated her faith in Wie’s game when she made her a captain’s pick for the Solheim Cup in August. Wie held her own, going 2-1 in foursomes before losing her singles match. Still, it wasn’t a popular pick.
“It’s funny how divisive it was,” Mallon recalled. “But that was people who don’t know her or what she’s capable of doing. For me it was a no-brainer.
“It came down to the fact that I didn’t want five or six birdies a round sitting on the couch. Her game is getting better. She rises to the occasion and has no fear, and playing the Solheim Cup at home is a pretty intimidating environment. And she wasn’t intimidated. Everything I thought she would be for me, she was.”
Mallon feels the area in which Wie has improved most is her putting, where she has climbed from 119th last year to 54th this year, dropping her average putts per round from 31.16 to 29.92.
“She had lost all her confidence, but that Stanford brain came up with that realization and she’s made herself a much better putter. That could go a long way down the road.”
Wie’s best finish of the year came just last month in South Korea, where her final-round 66 made her the leader in the clubhouse for a time. She finished tied for third, one shot out of a playoff won by Amy Yang.
“That was the closest I’ve felt (to winning),” she said. “It felt good to be the leader in the clubhouse. I’ve been close now a lot of times.”
Wie’s name still carries as much star power as any of the LPGA pros; but Kraig Kann, chief communications officer for the tour, said Wie’s contributions off the course have also been significant.
“We have a player communications committee, a group of players that give us feedback, come up with strategic media ideas and things that would benefit our tour long-term,” Kann said. “I reached out to eight players (two years ago) and Michelle was one. She was trying to put her game back together at the time, but the fact she said yes said something greater to me than anything she could do on the golf course.”
Born and raised in Hawaii, Wie said she moved to Jupiter from Orlando two years ago because “I needed to be near an ocean.
“I love being in Jupiter; I go to the beach a lot. There’s a lot of fun people down there.”
She said she plays often with PGA Tour pros who come by Bear’s Club, including Keegan Bradley and Will McKenzie.
“I’ve been trying to get down to Medalist (in Hobe Sound), so hopefully this season I will,” she added.
If Wie can ever reach the potential she showed as a 14-year-old, when she was top-20 in six of the seven LPGA events she played, it would no doubt do wonders for an LPGA Tour that continues to struggle for even a small portion of the golf media spotlight.
“How big would that be for us?” Kann said. “It would be huge. But we’ve already learned that putting pressure on her to succeed doesn’t work. It really does have to be about what’s good for Michelle, and when it’s going to happen for Michelle I don’t know.
“But if I was buying stock on what I do know, and what I’ve seen, I’d still say she’s a good stock to buy.”