RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – When Michelle Wie and Tiger Woods run into each other in Jupiter, Fla., they usually begin conversations by going over an injury checklist: How’s your back? How’s your ankle? How’s your (fill in the blank)?
It’s a frustrating commonality, dealing with career-threatening injuries and constant pain.
But Wie has taken great inspiration from Woods’ recent form.
“Just seeing what he’s gone through with his injuries,” she said, “and then just seeing what his club-head speed is right now and everything, seeing how he’s hitting the ball and how he was coming back, it’s truly inspiring and motivating. It’s really cool to watch.”
Paired with Lexi Thompson at ANA
Wie comes to this year’s ANA Inspiration, a playground of her youth, in excellent form. It’s the first time in her career that she was won an event prior to the year’s first major. Wie will pair with Lexi Thompson in the first two rounds at Mission Hills. They went off in the last group in 2014 playing two completely different styles. Thompson attacked the course with monstrous drives; Wie was more constricted, hitting stingers and lay-ups with her 3-wood when she needed to push.
“The difference in being an average length driver and long driver at Mission Hills is enormous,” said past champion Judy Rankin. “It takes it from quite a difficult golf course, to a lot of birdie holes.”
This time will be different for Wie, as she feels more confident with the big stick. But it won’t be quite like it was when Wie, 28, nearly won here several times as a teenager.
“When she was 15 she was probably 30 yards longer than she is now, no exaggeration,” said longtime coach David Leadbetter.
Even so, she won’t be too far behind Thompson. Leadbetter said he hasn’t seen Wie swing this well in ages.
“I kind of have more of a mentality that if I’m even in the rough, I’d rather be up there and kind of that freer, more play-like-a-kid mindset,” said Wie.
That goes back to casual rounds she has with PGA Tour pros back home in Jupiter, Fla. Rickie Fowler and Camillo Villegas are frequent practice partners. Wie has tried to adopt their philosophies of being smart-aggressive. Occasionally, the ball might find a hazard, and that’s not the end of the world.
“I see them play the game, and they actually play the game,” she said. “They hit a lot of different types of shots. Short game, I learn a lot from them. But just the mentality of … attacking the golf course and just play it more like a game.”
Time to be free, fun
Wie, a self-described “over-thinker,” has had to retrain herself to be free and fun on the golf course. Her passion for what she’s doing was on full display in that celebration on the 18th green in Singapore.
Of course, it’s all easier when playing healthy. In January Wie started working with Kolby Tullier, a popular trainer in south Florida who works with a number of PGA Tour stars. Lexi Thompson was Tullier’s first LPGA client. Wie and Jessica Korda are two recent additions.
“Korda and I are basically on the same program,” said Wie. “We call it the ‘baby giraffe program.’ Also they call it the ‘glass-house program.’ Basically trying to not get injuries and just try to be stronger, but just kind of work within myself.”
There’s really no telling what a healthy, unconstricted Wie could accomplish in a full season on the LPGA. Particularly when putting as well she is now.
Wie and Woods – the two biggest needle-movers on their respective tours – could script comebacks for the ages in consecutive weeks. That would certainly give them something new to talk about.