KOHLER, Wis. – It’s supersonic hot here in Dairyland but that’s not a mirage: Michelle Wie shot 6-under 66 at the U.S. Women’s Open.
That’s right, the one time can’t-miss-kid who recently couldn’t make a cut, fired the day’s best morning round at Blackwolf Run July 6 and sits one shot behind fellow Swoosh star Suzann Pettersen, who leads the field at 5-under 139. It begs two questions: Where did that come from, and how long will it last?
“Yeah I’m pretty stoked to be back in contention and honestly not have to worry about the cut line,” Wie said. “It feels pretty good.”
It’s the first time Wie has broken the 70 barrier since the second round of the Honda LPGA Thailand event, which, incidentally, was her second round of the year back in February. Wie shot 68.
It has been a miserable year for the Stanford grad on the golf course. She has missed the cut in six of her last seven stroke-play events on the LPGA. Her scoring average: 75.08. She has broken par only three times in 24 rounds.
Pettersen believes everyone should cut Wie a break.
“She just graduated, four years in college,” Pettersen said. (Actually, it was five years.) “That’s pretty impressive to do that on the sideline of trying to compete out here.”
As painful as it has been to watch Wie struggle, imagine what must have been like to live through. Wie is the most well-known player on the LPGA among casual golf fans. Her time on the PGA Tour grew her fame exponentially. The downside to that is when her game goes south, there’s no place to hide.
Wie sought out the advice of 2013 Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon, whom she calls a second mom. Mallon lives down the road from Wie in South Florida and helped talk her through some obvious putting woes.
“I think once everyone was like ‘What is happening with her putting?’ it kind of got to my head a little bit,” Wie said. “I have to trust myself. I know I’m a good putter. I’ve been a good putter, and I can be (again).”
She also enlisted the help of Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of Vision54, who have worked with Annika Sorenstam, Ai Miyazato, Brittany Lincicome and Na Yeon Choi among many others.
“Just believing in yourself,” said Wie, “even when you’re kind of not playing well. Kind of try to look at the positives and at least bring out one positive, one good thing that you did and keep working on it.”
Pettersen played in the group behind Wie and said she has never seen the lanky Hawaiian make as many putts as did today.
“She was fist-pumping every putt she looked at,” Pettersen said. Wie hit 11 greens and had 23 putts. She carded one bogey.
Pettersen, meanwhile, has been caught in her own web of frustration. She’s always on the cusp these days, particularly at majors. A third-round 66 at the Kraft Nabisco put her in excellent shape heading into the final round. She shot 72 on Sunday. At the Wegmans LPGA Championship, she finished T-2 to Shanshan Feng. She hasn’t won a major since the 2007 McDonald’s LPGA Championship.
Looking at Pettersen’s physique, her ball-striking, her raw talent, it seems the only thing keeping her from more major titles lies somewhere between the ears. So when her alarm clock went off an hour later than planned this morning, a rushed Pettersen skipped breakfast and a shower and went straight to the golf course.
“Sometimes that’s a good thing,” she said. “You don’t have time to think about stuff.”
Speaking of overthinking, it’s worth noting that David Leadbetter wasn’t on site this week to work with either player. Wie said he was with his son James at a tournament and unable to make the trip to Kohler. Leadbetter is a fixture at LPGA majors. Perhaps having one less voice in Wie’s head this week helped her play more freely.
Wie’s former instructor, Gary Gilchrist, watched Wie hit balls on the range early in the week and had said he hadn’t seen her swing this fluid in four years.
“I don’t know if anyone gave up on me or not,” Wie said. “I’m sure some did and some didn’t. But I never gave up on myself, and today was a good reminder to myself that I can and I still have it.”
Let’s hope she can keep “it” through the weekend.