Here we go again. David Leadbetter, the one person in the Michelle Wie camp whose relationship to reality is more than casual, says the talented teen is done playing against the men -- for now -- and that she's going to focus on getting her game and, more important, her confidence back. The concern here is that these are very similar to the words Leadbetter uttered last May, only to be overruled by Wie's parents. This time, Leadbetter, insists, everyone in the Wie camp is listening.
While this is good news - perhaps the worst thing that happened to Wie was missing the cut at the Sony Open by one stroke in 2004, creating the misperception she was that close to being able to compete with male professionals - somewhat disturbing is the news Michelle is also going to disrupt her education at Stanford to get back to golf. One of the things that was clearly lacking as Wie stumbled through a painful 2007 season was any indication she was having fun. Many hoped the college experience would get her back to being a kid.
At this stage there is no real plan to play any men's events," Leadbetter told Golfdigest.com by phone from Orlando, where Wie was practicing with him the week before Christmas. "Maybe late in the year in Asia. Right now her goal is to get in really good shape, to get really healthy."
As for her freshman year at Stanford, which began in September, Leadbetter said: "That's the plan, to miss the spring quarter and focus on golf. She just didn't want to [compete] last year. It wasn't a whole lot of fun. She's looking forward to getting back in the mix, She's talking about joining the LPGA."
Wie's season was disrupted when she tripped while jogging last February and injured her left wrist, compounding a problem that already existed with tendonitis in her other wrist. After failing to make the cut at the 2007 Sony Open by 14 strokes Wie missed two months of competition because of the injury and then returned before she was healthy enough to play. In eight LPGA events she missed three cuts, withdrew twice, finished last among those to make the cut twice and next to the last in the other. She's hasn't played against the men since last year's Sony, her market value clearly plunging.
Along the way Wie alienated other LPGA players by flaunting rules that, as a non-tour member, she did not have to follow. She constantly showed up to play tournament courses the week before an event - LPGA members can't set foot on a tournament venue until after 5 p.m. on the Sunday before the event - and at the Ginn Tribute she quit after 16 holes when it appeared she might not break 88, which would have meant she'd be disqualified for the rest of the season. When Annika Sornetsam said that showed a lack of class and a lack of respect - words applauded by nearly every LPGA member - Wie responded by saying she had nothing for which to apologize.
"She realizes the year was a debacle in every way, on the course and PR wise," Leadbetter said. "She's healthier than she has been in more than a year. She's down here now working really, really hard and she is starting to get it back. She's probably about 90 percent of the way there. Because of the injury she wasn't able to hang onto the club."
Stanford's winter quarter ends March 16, 11 days before the Safeway International, an event Wie has played in the past and a week before the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first LPGA major of the year. But part of the dilemma Wie is facing is that because of her poor play in 2007 she is currently not qualified for any of the women's majors in '08. The only way she can get into the Kraft Nabisco as a non-tour member is to win a tournament before the event, which means we will likely next see her on the golf course in February.
"There is a strong possibility she is going to play early in Hawaii, one maybe both of the events there," Leadbetter said. "She's dug a hole for herself. Right now she is not in any of the majors. She has to play a lot. She hasn't complained once this week about her wrist. Playing in Hawaii will give us an idea where she stands."
Let's flash back to last May, when Leadbetter said: "She hasn't got any PGA Tour events planned at the moment. She's going to commit herself to the LPGA and play a number of events, and next year she'll probably take up membership."
No sooner did those words hit the Internet than Jesse Derris of the Ken Sunshine Agency, which handles public relations for the Wie family, was on the phone to Golf World saying: "It's fair to say no options have been ruled out." A little more poking around by this intrepid reporter elicited this quote from a source extremely well plugged into the Wie camp: "I wouldn't jump to any conclusions that she's not [playing against the men]."
The message here is that Leadbetter was out of the loop last May when it came to Wie's schedule. What he seemed to be doing was using a public forum to give his advice on what she should be doing, hoping her parents would listen. They didn't. Sure enough, a week later Wie's camp announced she was going to play the John Deere Classic, a decision she had to rescind later in the summer as her game continued to unravel.
"Her attitude is really great," Ledbetter says of Wie's state now. "She went out today and came back and said, 'I really played good.' She hasn't said that in a while. She was mismanaged this year," he said. "It was just bad planning. Hopefully, everyone has learned. They got into this mindset that, 'This is Michelle, and she can do anything.' "
Asked for comment from B.J. and Bo Wie about Leadbetter's comments, Derris said he was still waiting to hear back from them.
This 18-year-old needs to regain balance in every aspect of her life. The swing needs to regain its once glorious rhythm, and she needs to somehow rediscover the reason she started playing golf to begin with -- to have fun.
The love/hate relationship we all have with the game was clearly out of balance for Wie all year. Putting playing against the men on hold would be a great first step. Clearly, Leadbetter knows what's best for the kid. He just has to get the other adults onboard.
"If she digs herself out of this, if she has one good tournament people will take her back in their hearts and minds," Leadbetter says. "I told her you don't become a bad player over night. The talent is still there. She's got a bit of sparkle in her eye again. Last year she was suffering." That was something apparent to most everyone - including Leadbetter - except the Wie inner circle. Hopefully this time his advice will be heeded.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.