Michelle Wie will be the talk of the LPGA Championship again this year after she took the tournament by storm a year ago by finishing second behind Annika Sorenstam.
Wie ready for LPGA Championship
The teen phenom works out the kinks in a practice round
HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. » Michelle Wie fine-tuned her golf game under the scrutiny of instructor David Leadbetter yesterday in preparation for the LPGA's second major championship of the year.
She played an 18-hole practice round with Nicole Perrot of Chile at Bulle Rock Golf Course, site of the McDonald's LPGA Championship which starts today.
"She's working hard on her putting," Leadbetter said. "If she putts well this week, I think she has a really good shot at it."
Leadbetter walked the course with Wie, as did Leadbetter's wife, Kelly, a former LPGA player and now Wie's putting coach.
Wie's father, B.J., and mother, Bo, also were part of the entourage. Approximately 50 fans followed the group. So did two Sheriff's Department officers on bicycles for security.
"We were lucky it is very cool today," B.J. Wie said of the overcast day. "So we finished 18 holes." He indicated the players might have stopped after nine holes had it been hotter.
Wie was hitting the ball well. She smiled and laughed along the way and seemed relaxed on the same course where she finished second in this event a year ago.
"She's stronger than a year ago and longer," David Leadbetter said. "She's added 6 mph to her club-head speed. Her swing has been good for a year now and she's getting more and more proficient."
Wie has played nine LPGA majors and posted five top-10s,
including a third-place tie at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the year's first major.
She is fresh from a mega-media event Monday at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., where she attempted to become the first woman to qualify for the U.S. Open.
"What a great story," David Leadbetter said. "It brought out all sorts of people: postal workers, housewives."
Wie shot 1-over-par 143 at the demanding 36-hole qualifier, missing a playoff for the last of the 18 U.S. Open berths available at Canoe Brook by five shots. She tied for 59th in a field of 153.
Nevertheless, she played well. And she maintained her poise when things weren't going her way. With only six holes left, she was at 2-under and still had an outside chance.
"That just adds to her résumé," David Leadbetter said. "She'll get through one of those in the not-too-distant future. Every time she plays in that competitive environment, it raises the level of her game. She'll build on what happened the other day."
At Canoe Brook, Wie's putting became a flashpoint because she was unable to convert a number of birdie opportunities she created with impressive ballstriking.
Leadbetter doesn't think of putting as a weakness for Wie.
"It might appear to be a weakness because she's so good in every other area," he said. "It's just a matter of putting the time and work in to get a repeating stroke."
For those who subscribe to the notion that great putters are born, not made, he said that could be true for some players, citing Ben Crenshaw and South Africa's Bobby Locke.
But he added, "Michelle has all the attributes to be a great putter. Her lag putting has improved tremendously over the last year."
Leadbetter said fans should remember Wie, 16, still is a fulltime student at Punahou School.
He expects even greater things once she plays tournament golf on a year-round basis.
Meanwhile, Wie still is basking in the Canoe Brook fallout.
"It's a fantastic time for ladies' golf," Leadbetter said. "There is a buzz about it, and Michelle adds to it tremendously. She helps create so much interest in the game."
He said Wie is one of those athletes who thrive in the limelight.
Since this week's event is one of the LPGA's biggest stages, she should be in the hunt.
"She plays better when there is that intensity," Leadbetter said. "She gets so pumped up