Michelle Wie Determined To Finish Season With A Flourish
NAPLES, Fla. -- When Michelle Wie chipped in for birdie on her final hole Thursday in the first round of the CME Group Tour Championship, not even a quiver of a smile crossed her lips.
"My blood was boiling at that point," Wie said later, because she had double-bogeyed No. 16 and bogeyed No. 17. "There was no way I was not going to make that shot."
You could tell then just how focused Wie was on competing well in this LPGA season-ending event. Her game wasn't exactly dialed in for the opening round, when she shot even-par 72, but her mindset was right where it needed to be. Wie said she was eager to practice for a while and then attack the course again Friday.
It's a hard game, and you're going to have tough days out there. At the same time, that's kind of the fun part about it. You go out after your round and try to figure it out. I love that part.Michelle Wie
And that's just what she did -- with a Thursday night "red carpet" detour for the LPGA awards banquet added in as well. Wie shot 5-under 67 Friday and is tied for fourth at 139, 2 shots behind leaders Carlota Ciganda of Spain and Julieta Granada of Paraguay.
"That's the beauty of this game. It's a hard game, and you're going to have tough days out there," Wie said. "At the same time, that's kind of the fun part about it. You go out after your round and try to figure it out. I love that part."
Friday at Tiburon Golf Club was a bit cooler and windier than Thursday, but Wie's game heated up. She bogeyed the first hole of the second round, but it was all good from there. She had birdies on Nos. 3, 6, 14 and 17, and an eagle on No. 7.
Wie is one of nine players eligible to win the Race for the CME Globe and the $1 million that goes along with it. She was fourth in that points race coming into this tournament, which pays $500,000 to the winner.
"She can make golf look so easy and effortless, but it's a testament to how many hours she's spent on the range and the putting green," said Wie's good friend and fellow LPGA player Christina Kim. "She's been having to cultivate this for so many years now. There are things that probably seem easier for her than for others, but everybody has hardships and things they have to work on."
Wie has referred to 2014 as a breakthrough year, and people may think that's because she won her first major. But as important as that U.S. Women's Open victory in June was to outsiders' perception of Wie, what she's been most happy about is reaching more of an even keel in her game.
Before the season started, she had told her longtime coach, David Leadbetter, that her goal for 2014 was to try to get off the roller coaster she'd always tended to ride as a player.
"In the past, my mentality has always been that I want to play really well and I put a lot of pressure on myself," Wie said. "This year, I kind of changed my mentality about it. I've always been a really streaky player, where I played really well or really bad. I told [Leadbetter] I just want to be consistent."
And for the most part, that's what she has been. Wie has 12 top-10 finishes this season, the most in her career. Two of those were victories.
And even though Wie sustained a hand injury that kept her out of the LPGA Championship in August and forced her to withdraw from the Evian Championship in September, she still won the inaugural Rolex Annika Major Award. That was thanks to her second-place finish at the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and her U.S. Women's Open triumph.
Wie accepted the honor Thursday night at the LPGA awards banquet that kind of doubles as a fashion show. Wie wore a black skirt and white top with some gold accessories.
"She's got that air about her; she's got glamour," Kim said. "And it's built in; it's not something that she has to work hard to portray. She exudes style. She glides. Even when she was going through tough times, she's always had that sort of 'barely touching the ground' kind of walk."
The tough times Kim refers to were mostly when Wie was in her late teens and still trying to find herself as a golfer, while some people were already labeling her a "has-been."
Wie said she'll always carry a little bit of the impact of that adversity with her, even though she prefers not to look back too much.
"It's just that I think that when I was younger, I imagined my life just to steadily rise. And that's not realistic," Wie said. "You're going to have high points, you're going to have low points. And I think I'm much better prepared now to deal with the low points."
That's the mental side to the sport. But Wie said she also thinks part of her improved play is due to better strength training for her core and lower body, as she has worked with PGA of America trainer Dave Donatucci.
"I always thought I was strong, but I really wasn't," Wie said. "I was not strong in the right places for the golf swing. I thought you needed to do heavy weights, or squats. But there are a lot of little muscles here and there that I have discovered over the past year."
Wie has been working with Leadbetter since she was 13. She said the strength training she's done has allowed her to make improvements to her swing that she and Leadbetter had been trying to do for quite a while.
Another part of Wie's growth has been accepting 100 percent responsibility for whatever happens when she plays.
"When you're playing bad, it's not anyone else's fault," she said. "It's not your caddie's, not your coach's. It's you not being able to execute shots and make the putts.
"I've always believed in David's philosophies; he's kind of like a second father to me. I always thought he said the right things and taught me the right way. I just needed to learn how to execute."
Wie turned 25 in October, so she is just entering her peak years as a competitor. And she's never seemed more confident that she's doing what she needs to do to get the most out of her ability.
"For this week, all I want is an opportunity," Wie said. "I'm really proud of giving myself that today. I just want to put myself in great position for Sunday. That's all I'm asking. Then whatever happens, happens."