Rooted in friendship, Wie vs. Lewis great for LPGA

Stacy Lewis, defending champion at the Women's British, and Michelle Wie, who won the U.S. Women's Open in June, are close friends off the course, but push each other on it.
Stacy Lewis, defending champion at the Women's British, and Michelle Wie, who won the U.S. Women's Open in June, are close friends off the course, but push each other on it. ( Getty Images )

Sunday, January 4, 2015

SOUTHPORT, England – Michelle Wie recently invited a few friends over for a rainy Fourth of July pool party. Among the guests was World No. 1 Stacy Lewis. If a rivalry develops between these two, we’ll be sure to insert the word friendly.

“There was no twerking,” said Wie of the Fourth festivities. But they had fireworks.

The latter is precisely what fans hope to see around Royal Birkdale this weekend, where oddsmakers have Lewis as a 5-1 favorite at the Ricoh Women’s British Open while Wie, the Princess of Pinehurst, is at 10-1.

The LPGA hasn’t had a good sparring match since Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam, and that was short-lived. Neither particularly lit up the press room either.

Lewis, one of the best interviews on tour, welcomes the idea of going toe-to-toe with Wie.

“I think rivals are great for any sport,” she said. “I don’t think you have to hate each other because we are never going to hate each other. But I can tell you we both want to beat each other once we get on the golf course, and that’s all you need for a rivalry to work.”

Stats help too. Lewis and Wie have played in 50 common rounds in 2014 and are deadlocked at 21-21-8.

And yet, they couldn’t be more different. One is blue-chip; one carries a big chip. One barely played in the AJGA growing up; one was a regular guest on the PGA Tour.

Where Lewis is focused and to the point, Wie likes to speak in metaphors and can be easily distracted.

“Michelle is usually very focused on the next meal,” Lewis said.

Wie, who often maps out her dinner plans for the week well in advance, went to a Japanese sushi restaurant in New York City the night after she won the U.S. Women’s Open. The 24-year-old hadn’t been to Nippon since she was a teenager, but the excited chef remembered to hold the wasabi on her order.

Stories like that are the reason Lewis calls Wie the tour’s “biggest star.”

Shortly after Lewis won in Arkansas, she was on a family vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., sleeping on a pull-out sofa. Her parents were in the same room on a blow-up mattress.

There are no special privileges in the Lewis family.

For the Wies, however, rules often were rewritten.

Lewis and Wie, both residents of Jupiter, Fla., practice together but they don’t bet. The stakes are higher than a side wager. They’re pushing each other for goals like LPGA Player of the Year, the money title and major crowns.

“She’s deadly consistent,” Wie said of Lewis, “annoyingly consistent.”

Wie’s artwork hangs on the walls of her home. Even her hair has become a canvas of sorts. Lewis’ creativity, however, is contained to the way she shapes golf shots. Her masterpiece coming at the Road Hole when a perfectly struck 5-iron landed her the 2013 Ricoh Women’s British Open title at St. Andrews.

The club, it turns out, is sitting in a Solheim Cup bag on the second floor of her home. It’s there with all the putters she has used to win tournaments.

Why bench a putter that wins?

“This was an accidental bend,” said Lewis of the last time she slammed her putter against her golf bag.

The incident occurred at the 2013 Lorena Ochoa Invitational, an event that was not televised. Lewis used her wedges on the greens for 14 holes.

After the round, she went to the pro shop at Guadalajara Country Club and found a vintage Odyssey putter that was at least eight years old. She had hit cut down at a local golf shop and went on to finish second.

Remember when Wie laughed off that double-bogey on the 16th at Pinehurst No. 2? Count temper among their sizable differences.

It was here at Royal Birkdale in 2005 that Wie first saw a pair of hand warmers. She remembers seeing playing partner Catriona Matthew with a pair and thinking “That is so genius.” She suffered all week after shipping back all her rain gear to Hawaii after enjoying a surprisingly warm week at Evian.

Lewis’ first experience at Birkdale came in 2010. She played in a driving rain for 17 of 18 holes one round that year and said she left with a new understanding of how to play links golf.

“Sometimes you hit ugly shots and they turn out OK,” Lewis said.

“It’s not about how solid you hit every shot. It’s just where you get it to the right place.”

Both Wie and Lewis talked often about the rough at Birkdale. Gone are the days where they could bomb it over bunkers with little worry.

“The biggest thing is that you have to really place yourself around this golf course,” Lewis said. “You can’t just get up there and rip driver.”

For Wie, that meant a boatload of stinger hybrids on the range this afternoon. Lewis, who admires that trusty shot, said she’d probably top it if she tried. The shot, which has been known to graze tee boxes, even has a nickname: “the tickler.”

Lewis predicted at the start of the year that 2014 would be a big year for Wie.

“She’s going to be a force every week because she’s learning how to take her game to different golf courses and she’s contending,” Lewis said.

All year Wie has preached her main goal: be more consistent.

Travis Wilson, Lewis’ caddie since she turned professional, threw out this stat to mark his boss’ excellence in that department: From the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open to Pinehurst, Lewis finished outside the top 10 only three times.

“Pretty good,” Lewis said, grinning.

Bring on the fireworks.

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