Season preview: Wie's game could leap by a degree

Michelle Wie

Michelle Wie

Michelle Wie looks forward to Stanford’s Wacky Walk, when graduation candidates dress in costumes and parade through the football stadium. The highly creative Wie, who loves do-it-yourself projects, recalled a time when members of the Hawaii Club dressed as a human lei. She also liked the Tetris blocks.

As a fifth-year senior, however, Wie has missed out as many of her friends already have walked the Walk.

“I’m going to be the loner,” Wie said, with a touch of exaggeration.

Wie, 22, who recently completed her third LPGA season, is scheduled to graduate from Stanford with a degree in communications this March and walk in June.

“Once I got into college, everyone was basically kind of writing me off, saying I’m not going to graduate,” Wie said. “It was a long road; it’s very hard. But at the same time, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made personally. I’ve learned so much about myself at college. I’ve met some of the greatest people.”

Wie gets frustrated when golf observers insinuate that she has been “on and off” the tour. In 2011, Wie played in 20 of 23 tournaments, the same number as Suzann Pettersen.

Wie finished the season 18th on the money list and in the Rolex Rankings. She didn’t win in 2011, but she carried more credits than most student-athletes, at 18 to 20 per quarter.

She also proved she’s still a hot commodity in the sponsorship world despite winning only twice on the LPGA while at Stanford. Wie stars in nationally televised ads for three non-golf-related companies: McDonald’s, Kia and Direct Buy Home Furnishings Club. No other LPGA player can boast such exposure.

We’ll never know what Wie might have accomplished as a young professional had she not gone to Stanford. She could’ve been more rested, more focused. But she also might have gone crazy.

David Leadbetter, Wie’s longtime instructor, said Wie is unlike any other young player of great talent he has known.

“As soon as they woke up, they wanted to hit balls,” Leadbetter said. Wie, however, has other interests, and college gave her the time and space to explore.

“No question in my mind, her best golf is ahead of her,” Leadbetter said. “In some ways, when you look at the modern trend, these young girls get so good, so quick. I don’t think we’re going to see the burnout she would’ve had had she not gone to school.”

Golf served as an outlet for Wie, the stressed-out student. There were times she couldn’t wait to get to the golf course to beat drivers after a rough session in nanotechnology.

Wie’s parents, Bo and B.J., were as omnipresent as ever. They spent a large amount of time with their only child on the practice putting green this season. The long putter, the varying grips.

“The problem is, if your putting is a bit of liability, it then reverberates throughout your whole game,” Leadbetter said.

Life without Stanford could go one of two ways for Wie. She’ll either come out refreshed and hungry, delivering more on the talent that once seemed to promise record-breaking success. Or she’ll suffocate.

Leadbetter insists that while things might look the same to those outside the Wie family bubble, Michelle does have more room to breathe. She has learned to speak her mind.

Going forward, Wie will need to keep finding ways to be social and creative and maintain a sense of independence without the idyllic cocoon of Stanford.

“I think it was a great learning step for me, a vital step in my life,” Wie said of college.

Perhaps now, Wie, the graduate, can be her own boss.

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