Sport Golf

Sunday 23 July 2017

Wie to whip up Solheim storm

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

AT last, Michelle Wie is in Ireland to play competitive golf. The girl wonder from Honolulu, Hawaii, comes to Killeen Castle for the Solheim Cup ready to brandish her long putter in the cause of the USA as they bid to retain the trophy in this biennial contest against Europe.

A long putter? For one so young? Isn't that the last refuge of a desperate and tortured soul whose psyche has been punctured by years of unrelenting pressure on the greens?

Well, yes and no. Recently the long stick has gained a tad more respect by virtue of its association with some significant victories, such as Keegan Bradley's PGA Championship win and Webb Simpson's success in the Deutsche Bank tournament in the FedEx play-offs.

Still, you have to wonder about 21-year-old Wie -- she will be 22 on October 11 -- resorting to the long putter. Remember, this is the girl who was expected to emulate Tiger Woods by sweeping all before her once she stepped into the professional ranks.

A huge media circus attended her every public appearance, particularly when she was presented as a potential match for the men at the highest level.

Well, so far, despite two LPGA wins which, admittedly, are not easily achieved given the level of competitiveness on that Tour, Wie hasn't set the world alight as an adult player.

You'd have to wonder if the accumulated pressure of playing for years under the glare of the public spotlight has caught up with her.

Eleven years have passed since she became the youngest player, at age 10, to qualify for the adult USGA Women's Public Links championship.

Since then Wie has passed many milestones, including competing against the men in the 2004 PGA Tour's Sony Open, turning professional at age 16 and signing mult-million endorsement contracts with Nike and Sony.

Yesterday at Killeen Castle, after a practice round with her USA team-mates, Wie was cheerful and upbeat, but not prepared to share too much of the thinking behind the long-putter situation.

"Yes, I'm still using the long putter. My philosophy was, why not? I like it. I really do. And it will definitely be in the bag this week, because I didn't bring the short one. I worked with David Leadbetter on my swing, but I found out that putting is a very personal thing. I do take advice from a couple of people, but mostly I just have to rely on myself," said Wie.

More revealing was Wie's discussion about her student status at the elite Stanford University, where she is studying communications.

Europe's vice-captain Annika Sorenstam and former US Tour star Dottie Pepper have gone on record as saying that the college scene is interfering with Wie's golf, and the suggestion is that she should be going all out to fulfil the promise she showed in her early teens.

Wie, however, believes that it's time to clutch at a semblance of a 'normal' student existence away from family and familiar surroundings while she's still young.

"Growing up I didn't have the normal childhood per se. Obviously I was connected at the hip with my parents going to every tournament and spending a lot of time together.

"For me, going to college was a step for me to grow up, to go out there in the real world and live by myself and get an education.

"Going to Stanford was one of my biggest goals since I was four, so getting there was a great personal accomplishment.

"I've never felt so proud when I got that acceptance letter. I don't regret it at all. I still work hard (at golf), maybe even harder to make up for it, but I think it was a good decision.

"It's done a lot for me personally and for my game as well, because I've matured a lot, hopefully. But it will be good once I graduate," she said.

Graduation is set for March 2012 and though her parents would like her to do a Masters or PhD, Wie intends to then concentrate solely on her golf career.

The six-foot tall American is relishing the contest with Europe, which starts on Friday.

Her first Solheim Cup experience was two years ago at Rich Harvest Farms as a captain's (Beth Daniel) pick and Wie rose to the challenge, winning three and a half points for her team as they overwhelmed Europe on the final day.

"I was so happy when I did well in my first Solheim. It was a really, truly amazing experience for me," she said.

Yesterday the players from both teams had a practice outing over the Jack Nicklaus-designed Killeen Castle course.

Most of the players from both sides have played the course in the Ladies Irish Open, held there in 2010 and last month, but it's new to Wie and a few of the Americans.

"It's just a very beautiful golf course. It's a little on the longer side for sure and the greens are tricky.

"It's a good match-play golf course. We were on the greens there today and there are some crazy pins they could put out for a fourball, so it's going to be interesting," said Wie.

Laura Davies, making her 12th appearance in the event and the only player on either team to have played in each staging of the Solheim since it began in 1990, expects "a really good fierce battle".

If it were a football match, Davies mused: "It would probably be the Champions League final.

"They'd be Barcelona and we'd be Manchester United. It's a close thing. The star players have to step up and win the points at vital times."

Michelle Milestones

1989

Born on October 11 in Honolulu, Hawaii, to parents who had emigrated to the USA from South Korea.

2000

Only 10 years old, she becomes the youngest qualifier in the history of the US Women's Public Links Championship.

2002

The Takefuji Classic is Wie's first LPGA Tour event. Aged 12 years 4 months, 14 days, she becomes the youngest player to pre-qualify for an LPGA tournament.

2003

Youngest champion of a USGA event when she wins the US Women's Amateur Public Links title. Youngest player to make the cut in an LPGA Tour event aged 13 years, 5 months, 17 days. Two days later at the same tournament -- the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a Major -- becomes the youngest player to finish in the top 10 on the LPGA Tour.

2004

At age 14, plays in the men's PGA Tour Sony Open at Waialae, Honolulu. Shoots 72 68, but misses the cut by a single shot. Also that year becomes the youngest Curtis Cup player in the event's history as USA beat GB and Ireland at Formby.

2005

Turns professional shortly before her 16th birthday. Signs multi-year and multi-million-dollar deals with Nike and Sony. The Nike deal alone is reported to be worth around $5m a year.

2009

Rookie year on Tour. Wins Lorena Ochoa Invitational. A captain's pick for Solheim Cup, Michelle wins three points for team en route to victory over Europe. Earns €918,659 in her debut season.

2010

Wins second LPGA Tour event, the CN Canadian Women's Open, which helps her towards 2010 on-course earnings of $888,017.

Irish Independent

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