SONY OPEN PREVIEW
Ready to tee it up
Michelle Wie won't let a sore right wrist or even critics stop her from playing in Sony Open
Michelle Wie addressed a packed media room yesterday with her right wrist so heavily bandaged, you couldn't help but wonder just how many swings she has in her.
The Punahou School senior skipped today's pro-am to get some much-needed rest in anticipation of tomorrow's opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii. The first question asked by a member of the media was, "I see you have some tape on your wrist. What's ailing?"
And in typical Wie fashion, she downplayed its significance.
"I had a little injury a few tournaments back and I haven't had enough time to rest," Wie said. "It feels a little iffy but I'm still going to play. It's not that bad."
Wie injured it last fall when taking a fat shot off the cart path at Samsung. It was the beginning of a long ailment that has more diagnoses than an episode of "House."
"They are saying a lot of different things," Wie said.
"It's a tendon strain, tendinitis, a pinched nerve, it's this, it's that, it's everything. But it's not that bad. It hurts a little bit, but not enough to stop me from playing."
The 17-year-old is just back from a two-week stay in Florida, where she went in for a tune-up with swing coach David Leadbetter. After a wonderful start to 2006 in which she managed three top-5 finishes in three of the four LPGA majors, Wie ended it on a down note with more missed cuts in men's events than John Daly.
She described it as not playing to her full potential. Others might say it's time to stop the marketing exercise of playing with the men and stick with the women full-time. But that's not Wie. She has been playing with the boys since she was 4 and doesn't want to stop now.
"I guess being the only girl on the baseball team when I was 4 years old was also a marketing plan. Not," Wie said.
"It's what I want to do. It's what I've grown up with, ever since I was 4 years old. Playing basketball with the boys on my lunch break. I enjoy it. Some people take it as, 'It's a marketing plan to make more money, blah, blah.' But they don't realize it's what I want to do and I enjoy it. You can't trade happiness for anything."
Leadbetter isn't discouraging Wie from playing with the big boys. He's trying to get her swing in top condition as 2007 begins. Wie said he doesn't want her playing in a dozen events with men, but he doesn't have a problem with her playing in three or four each season.
Right now, he and Wie are going over what went wrong the latter half of 2006. If she hadn't missed the cut so spectacularly by finishing dead-last a couple of times, it might not have mattered as much. But if she finishes last again by the end of her round on Friday, then folks are going to ask her to reconsider.
"Come on, would you be very happy if you weren't playing good golf," Wie said of how she felt after missing the cut at the 84 Lumber Classic. "I wasn't happy with how I was playing. I was very happy I was given the opportunity to play in the tournament. It was a very special tournament for me, given my relationship with the Hardy family.
"But I wasn't very happy with how I played. I was honored to be given that opportunity. It was very unfortunate that I was not playing my best in the last few events, but that is not stopping me."
Confidence is the key thing the Wie team has to watch very carefully. It's one thing missing the cut by one shot, quite another missing it by seven or more. Wie remains confident on the outside. She says she's ready to play tomorrow. But repeated failure eventually has its downside. Wie may want to play on the most prestigious tour in the world, but that doesn't mean she should.
"I really haven't played to my full potential," Wie said.
"It seems like a couple of things always go wrong. I feel like I played well through the summer. At the end of the summer, unfortunately, I didn't play as well as I wanted to. I think that is where experience comes into play, finding the right kind of schedule, how much I can take.
"I was a little bit tired going into the last couple of events and it showed. None of my family has ever done this before, so we have to go through the growing pains a little bit. This year, my schedule will be a lot better."
Just how many events in Hawaii she plans to play remains to be seen. She skipped out of the season-opening tournament in 2006 at Turtle Bay to play in the Fields Open at her home course at Ko Olina Resort.
Playing in the SBS Open and the Fields Open might be the way to go for Wie since she finished second at the SBS Open in 2005 and third at the Fields Open in 2006.
It seems to give Wie her best shot at winning. And since she's going to attend Stanford University in the fall, Wie might not be able to opt out of the classroom as much as she has been allowed to do at Punahou the last four years.
"I'm definitely determined to graduate, whether it's four years, five years, six years, seven years, eight years, 100 years," Wie said. "I'm going to graduate, bottom line."
Wie, Ching win skills challenge
Michelle Wie needed a little help from Punahou School amateur playing partner Alex Ching, but yesterday she came away with a win at the Waialae Country Club in the King Auto Group Pro-Junior Skills Challenge.
The exhibition consisted of five pros with five local junior golfers. Wie and Ching wound up in a tie with Dean Wilson and Kauai's Miki Ueoka, but won in a playoff to capture the $3,000 first prize in the $10,000 event that goes to help the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association.
An approach shot from 100 yards was the deciding factor in the playoff with Ching getting it closest at 9 feet.
Jerry Kelly, who won the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2002, was paired with Kaimuki's Chan Kim. They finished third with 26 points. Davis Love III and Honokaa's Sean Maekawa placed fourth with 24 points, and Parker McLachlin and Elyse Okada finished fifth with 16 points.
"It was a lot of fun," Ching said, who is also pretty handy with a tennis racket. "It's awesome to be able to come out here and play in something like this with Michelle. She's a pretty intimidating partner."
The challenge lasted about 90 minutes with each golfer trying to get shots closest to the pin from four different areas around the 18th green. The four challenges were a chip shot, a trouble shot from behind a tree, a bunker shot and a 60-foot putt. You received 10 points for finishing first, eight for second, six for third, four for fourth and two for fifth. It brought back a lot of fond memories for Wilson.
"I remember when I was a junior golfer and what that felt like," Wilson said. "It's a lot of fun giving something back to an organization like this. We had a lot of fun out there today."
McLachlin also enjoyed the competition and the opportunity to give something back to junior golf.
"I just wish we hadn't finished in the teens," McLachlin said.
Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin