Michelle Wie contending early at KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Michelle Wie contending early at KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

LPGA Tour

Michelle Wie contending early at KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Few things get the juices flowing at an LPGA major like Michelle Wie on the leaderboard. Wie’s back-nine 31 at Olympia Fields June 29 puts her two shots back of leader Chella Choi at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

What’s gotten into the former phenom?

“I kind of was sick of playing bad golf, honestly,” said Wie. “I was just sick of being down, and really started this year with a really good sense of determination and motivation. … It’s a long time to be out there to be miserable. So I just kind of made a pact with myself that I’m going to have fun, and if I hit a bad shot, brush it off and just have fun out there.”

Stacy Lewis played alongside Wie on Thursday and said the key to Wie’s recent success – four top-4 finishes in her last five events – is that she believes in her process, unorthodox as it may be.

“It’s not pretty,” said Lewis, who refrained from watching Wie’s shots too closely as seeing Wie’s “big cut” does her own game no favors.

“She’s believing in what she’s doing, and she’s hitting it every time,” said Lewis. “That’s what good golf is. If you can hit the same shot every time, that’s when you’re going to play well, and that’s what she’s doing.”

Lewis can’t even question the number of putting grips Wie uses. David Leadbetter said they call it the “whatever method.” Wie uses up to three different grips throughout the round, changing when the mood strikes.

“Again, it’s working,” said Lewis.

Michelle Wie’s putting style can change hole to hole. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

On a day when Cristie Kerr (78), Ariya Jutanguarn (77) and Lewis (74), struggled greatly on the challenging North Course, Choi dropped seven birdies in an opening 66.

Defending champion Brooke Henderson joined Wie and a slew of players at 3 under. Henderson won two weeks ago for the first time in 2017 at the Meijer LPGA Classic, saying she proved to both herself and “the naysayers” that she’s in a great position.

“I really needed that win,” she said. “It gave me that confidence that maybe I was lacking a few weeks prior.”

Wie’s confidence is due in large part to the fact that she switched last year from predominately playing a draw to a fade.

“It took a long time to get that comfortable,” she said, particularly on windy days like Round 1 at the KPMG.

In 2010, Wie led the LPGA in driving distance at 274 yards. This season she ranks 27th at 262.11. Distance used to be “really important” to the 6-foot superstar. Now she’s more interested in hitting fairways. To that end, Wie has gone from hitting 55 percent of her fairways in 2016 (ranking 155th) to 72 percent this season (93rd).

As for the “whatever” approach on the greens, well, the numbers tell that story, too. Wie rose from 120th in putts per green in regulation (1.85) in 2016 to 14th this year (1.75).

Wie insists she’s not thinking too much about what goes on before she putts. It’s all feel.

“Don’t try to figure it out,” she said, laughing.

In an interesting equipment twist, Wie put an 11-wood in the bag this week in place of her 5-iron. She hits it 175 yards and used it once in Round 1.

The shot that got things clicking for Wie came on the par-4 10th, when she hit a sand wedge to 4 feet. That led to solid wedge shots on Nos. 12 and 14 that also resulted in birdies.

And on the closing par-5 18th, Wie hit the green in two with a 3-wood from 215 yards to the front of the green and was pleased to negotiate the “super tricky” two-putt for birdie.

“Historically when she starts to play well,” said Leadbetter, “she keeps that momentum going for quite a while.”

Here’s to history repeating itself.

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