2002: Ellis’ fast climb exceeds even her goals
West Palm Beach, Fla.
Having been roughed up in a rookie season in which she missed as many LPGA cuts as she made in 2001, Australia’s Michelle Ellis established modest goals at the outset of this season.
Having finished 101st in earnings in her inaugural LPGA campaign, she aimed to make the top 50.
“At the highest, maybe top 40,” she said.
But there she was last month, staying at Donald Trump’s posh Mar-a-Lago Club, driving to and from “work” each day at the LPGA’s ADT Championship in her sleek BMW courtesy car. The season was over for most, but not for Ellis, who had exceeded her goals by climbing all the way into the top 30 on the tour’s money list. She also moved up 149 spots in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, finishing the season ranked 29th.
How did Ellis get there? At home in Australia last offseason, Ellis worked diligently to shorten her golf swing, building a more compact move designed to hold up better under pressure.
“When you’re under pressure, the small muscles are trying to take over, and I wanted to be more consistent under the gun,” explained Ellis, 26.
In shortening her swing, Ellis actually picked up yardage, increasing her average drive from 243.5 to 258.6 yards (tied for 25th on tour). She improved her driving accuracy (69.3 percent, up from 68.7) and hit more greens in regulation (64.3 percent, up from 61.9). Add a couple of hot putting streaks, and Ellis went from a top finish of 17th a year ago to piling up five top-12 finishes (including two seconds) in ’02.
“Basically, I outdid the goals I set, and now I have to figure out what I want to do (in 2003),” she said. “Everything has happened really quickly. I want to assess new goals without going too over the top and putting too much pressure on myself.”
Rookie Beth Bauer, ranked 67th at the start of the year, steadily climbed the Sagarins in 2002 (all the way to 19th) thanks mostly to improved putting, a result of hours and hours on the practice green. She averaged 29.59 putts per round, which ranked 34th.
“I used to have a little loop in my stroke, so I’ve worked on some drills to get rid of it,” she said. “I work on a 2-by-4 (board) to keep the putter straight back and straight through, and I got a (Odyssey White Hot) 2-Ball putter in the middle of the season that changed everything for me. The second half of the season I putted great.”
Sometimes, improved play goes beyond mere technique. Jenny Rosales, the 1998 NCAA individual champion who moved from 167th to 43rd in the Sagarins, improved in driving distance, driving accuracy, putting and birdies, among other categories. But she credits most of her improved play in ’02 to having her brother, Gerald, who plays Asia’s Davidoff Tour, on her bag for three weeks in the summer.
“He helped me get my confidence back,” Rosales said. “He got me believing in myself again. I can’t wait for next year.”