Wie leaves LPGA's first major with questions about her driver


POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. » When Michelle Wie stepped to the podium last Tuesday to talk about the leap of faith into Poppie's Pond, she never imagined she'd land near the bottom of the leaderboard instead.

Fellow American Brittany Lincicome got to take that traditional dip after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship yesterday. Wie was left to ponder what was next in her LPGA Tour sojourn.

After yesterday's closing 71 to finish at 16-over 304 and in a tie for 67th among the 70 women to make the cut, the Punahou School graduate will spend this week figuring out what kind of equipment she should use the next time she steps onto a tee box.

Wie located 13 greens in regulation yesterday, but still struggled off the tee, hitting only seven fairways, but it was good enough to post a solid number.

“;My driver is still a work in progress,”; Wie said. “;But at least I didn't hit any shots out of bounds.”;

She did hit a snap-hook at the 18th tee straight into the water, but fought back to get a bogey, much to the delight of the crowd that gave her a huge ovation as she headed toward the front nine.

Wie's next appearance will be in South Korea next week at a Korean LPGA event before returning to the regular tour in three weeks at the Corona Championship in Mexico. After Saturday's particularly difficult round of 81, Wie returned to the practice range with a bag that included two drivers by Nike.

Word on the street is David Leadbetter and Nike want her to quit using the X-shaft that Tiger Woods likes to swing in favor of the regular stiff shaft used by most women on the tour. Leadbetter talked about it with the Star-Bulletin on Friday, saying that the driver is too unforgiving when Wie misses the sweet spot.

Wie decided to give it a try at the practice range, using one driver, then the other, as she pounded drive after drive after drive for nearly 90 minutes. While the leaders were busy positioning themselves for yesterday's final round, Wie still had quite a crowd around her at the driving range as she sent one ball after another into the high desert's clear, blue skies.

Her father, B.J., sat down across from her, rolling golf ball after golf ball in her direction, her mother, Bo, right behind her studying every detail in her daughter's swing. Leadbetter left town on Friday hopeful that student Michelle would see the light, but as everyone on the Wie team likes to say: “;It's a work in progress.”;

Wie recently signed a new two-year deal with Nike, a company that has remained loyal to Wie, despite the numerous bumps and potholes in Wie's just-do-it path to greatness. Her new IMG representatives said Saturday that her Sony deal will end in the coming months, but with the company's recent financial problems, it's iffy whether Sony will remain on board the Wie train.

After Thursday's opening round of 71, several reporters noticed Wie wasn't exactly happy with her Houdini round. Had she not made a half-dozen difficult putts for par, that number could have easily been higher, closer to the back-to-back 81s she threw up on Friday and Saturday.

She already realized that fact on Thursday, refusing to get too excited about being tied for 18th and still in contention. The next step is to figure out what kind of equipment she should be using, practice like crazy with it and see where it takes her at the end of April in Mexico.

Granted, there are plenty of detractors out there around the world, including many on the tour itself, who believe Wie got too much, too soon, and is now paying the price with a golf game that comes and goes at a swing's notice.

That may be, but those who follow the game closely say she still has a flight path to die for, especially when she's clicking. Golf magazine writers say her fellow competitors marvel at how clean her iron game can be, and the power of her drives, when they're not landing in somebody's back yard, remains a constant.

But the real questions are: Does she have a real love of the game? Does she want to compete week in and week out? And does she have the competitive drive needed to win on a regular basis? Those questions may be answered over the next several months, before she returns to college in the fall. As for now, equipment issues are at the top of the page. Before that, it was the injuries. And before that, it was her youth holding her back.

At some point, the excuses will run dry. It's time to get it all together and see if that leap of faith will land her in Poppie's Pond a year from now.