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What’s Next for Wiesy?

Aug. 27, 2009     By     Comments (5)

Michelle goes 3-0-1 at the Solheim Cup. What should we expect, looking forward?

Thrash TalkAlthough I, like many, am neither a Wie-maniac nor a committed Wie-watcher, I was pleased with Michelle's performance at the Solheim Cup this past weekend. The Michelle Wie Story will always be one of failure to meet the ludicrous expectations which surrounded her. It is, of course, a wholly fruitless endeavor to speculate as to the exact genesis of said expectations, but the recipe is surely some part B.J. Wie, some part mass sports media hysteria of the Tiger Woods variety.

What do we make of Michelle's 3-0-1 record at this year's event?

Was it validation? To some degree, although, as stated previously, she will always be, in some sense, a failure and a disappointment. Acceptance by her peers? Perhaps more so, as she seems "one of the girls," more so than at any other point.

With respect to the aforementioned, Michelle has been becoming more integrated with her contemporaries for some time. I won't share the specifics of a discussion I overhead at the Corning Classic this year between Christina Kim, but it involved plans for a trip north of the border to indulge in things a 19-year-old is, well, not legally allowed to do here in the States.

If Wie is now a legitimate LPGA standout and capable contender, what should our expectations be? It certainly seems at this point that the myth of "The Girl who Could Compete with the Boys" is dead (and, really, it was absurd to begin with). The narrative was of no great service to Wie personally, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and amounted to an entirely unnecessary raising of the bar.

Michelle Wie, Sony OpenAssuming we have our wits about us and our passions contained, it's worthwhile to ask: "Where should the bar be set for Michelle Wie?"

The pendulum has settled a bit, for the moment. The massive swings between outrageous expectation and abysmal performance have given way to a sort of steadiness. Wie hasn't missed a cut this year, has cracked the top ten with some regularity, and has lowered her scoring average by two strokes from 2008. It's clear she isn't going to beat Tiger, but is she capable of being the Tiger of her own tour?

Perhaps.

Enter Dave Stockton
Michelle Wie has recently begun working with Dave Stockon, who formerly consulted with Annika Sorenstam regarding her short game and putting. It is my understanding that Stockton's methods focus more on mental approach (visualizing the putt, etc.) than actual stroke mechanics, which have surely been drilled into Michelle's head by now.

If anything, Wie is overcoached. In order to take the next step in her career, she needs to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and approach every round/shot with confidence and a series of positive visualizations.

It was clear throughout the Solheim Cup that Michelle Wie expected to make putts. I have never seen her looking that way before. Further, it was the first time that I had the feeling that she would, after a great approach shot, make her birdie attempt. Something was different, on the level of expectation and self belief, as well as with respect to her putting routine--not making practice strokes on shorter putts, a signature Stockton maneuver.

Insert Pia Nilsson, or Bob Rotella, or…?
I am sure Wie works with a sports psychologist; she needs to do more. Wie has displayed a lackluster short game, from time to time, as well as suffering from an impudent putter. However, assuming that these things are on their way to being remedied (thanks to the intercession of Dave Stockton), what is holding Michelle back is the combination of her mental approach to the game as well as her course management.

Wie deals with a lot of distractions, not the least of which are her omnipresent parents, who need to learn to support their daughter without, say, following her from the putting green to the range. Travel with your daughter, to be sure, but stop coaching her; begin to fade into the background. It's no surprise to me that Michelle played well with her parents banished from the locker room this past week. She needs professional, non-parental assistance, managing the chaos if she's to win consistently.

To quote the great decaying Al Davis, Wie needs to learn how to "just win baby." What is winning, in essence, in professional golf? It's putting yourself in position, time and again, minimizing mistakes and making important putts, that's all. With Dave Stockton, Michelle seems, at this early stage, to be taking care of the third part of the aforementioned. The first two parts are more about management than mechanics, more about preparation than play. This is another reason, then, that she ought to consult with someone who will help her with strategy and the mental aspect, beyond what David Leadbetter is capable of.

I am a champion of a new, more reasonable, set of expectations for Michelle Wie. History may show that her performance at this year's Solheim Cup was the first step towards the golfer winning consistently on the LPGA Tour, which is what we should really expect of her. Here's to hoping she doesn't fall short.

Photo Credit: © The Golf Channel.

Discussion

  1. Scott says:

    I could not agree with you more that Wie is overcoached, and you might add over advised. I dont think a sports psychologist is what she needs... look what Butch Harmon has done for Earnie Els. She needs individuality. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned her distance from Mom and Dad. I'm not talking about shunning them, just distancing them and making her own way. This is hard for me to speculate because I dont know much about her personal life, but I do know how parents can overshadow and often hender by doing so.

    "wholly fruitless endeavor to speculate as to the exact genesis of said expectations"... what the hell does that mean??

  2. Awsi Dooger says:

    I appreciated virtually everything except the final sentence; "...fall abysmally short again." That seemed like an itch to end with a rip.

    I don't think she ever has fallen well short of expectation. Not reasonable expectation. As Ben wrote, the dalliance in men's events, "amounted to an entirely unnecessary raising of the bar."

    Exactly right. Only fans and analysts who can't step back and properly evaluate the big picture expected Wie to dominate the LPGA, when she was 14-18 years old and sounded every bit that age. Narrowly missing a men's cut hardly transitions to frequent multi stroke wins on the LPGA. I expected bar stool overreaction of that caliber on shows like Jim Rome and PTI, but I've always been amazed to find it on golf forums, where all the nuances and requirements of the game should be known. Combine that with a lanky frame and consistency at that age screamed unlikely to me. She still makes frequent mistakes, often major ones.

    No one will agree with this, but IMO the parental situation is overblown as a negative, same as playing in the men's events. It's a convenient focal point, and this planet thrills to grasp first glance focal points. Michelle was too young to manage what was improperly anticipated of her in a very complex game. We needed a reason, something that stood out as different, and the parents qualified. It's something I see in politics all the time. The situational influence from cycle to cycle overwhelms smaller variables but those specific events are embraced to make sense of the outcome. We hate to rely on a preordained playing field.

  3. Enduro says:

    "Was it validation? To some degree, although, as stated previously, she will always be, in some sense, a failure and a disappointment"

    I'm not sure she will. Those teenage days were not of her own doing and I'm not sure it can be held against her. She is her own person now and shouldn't be judged on anything except what she does as an adult, of her own accord.

    Her father failed at making her a child golf superstar. He certainly succeeded in making them rich, however.

    I can't really say she's a disappointment or a failure since it wasn't her doing.

  4. flanagan says:

    As for Michelle working on the mental with Stockton and not the mechanics, that is not quite right. She has changed her mechanics and it is the work on the mechanics which she is doing with Dave and his son, I believe, that was clearly paying off. The Golf Channel showed some very good footage of her new putting stroke mechanics vs. her old stroke mechanics ala Dave Stockton. Very telling and shows a much better putting stroke.

  5. herrick9 says:

    Interesting topic and before the first peg entered the ground in this competition her teammates as much as told the G/C interviewer that the S/C was going to be as much or more of a challenge for this young woman's parents as it was going to be for M/W herself....
    I have no idea how much parental hover-crafting indeed occured in the course of the contest but the end result was certainly gratifying for U.S. golf fans and presumably for Ms. Wie herself.

    Let's hope it's a new day dawning for both parent and child alike as this energized and talented young woman is simply great for golf period.

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