INCHEON, South Korea – There were times in recent weeks that Michelle Wie felt so much pain in her wrist that she couldn’t put her car into gear. Forget competition, everyday living posed enough frustration.
“It was pretty serious,” said Wie, midway through a 36-hole marathon at the UL International Crown. If there’s anyone on tour who can appreciate Wie’s health hurdles, it’s four-ball partner Jessica Korda, who withdrew from last year’s Solheim Cup due to a forearm injury and suffered through major jaw surgery over the winter.
The pair have a saying at this week’s Jack Nicklaus Golf Club: “Don’t be a hero.”
The statuesque friends were on their way to see the physio before the start of Round 3. Wie hadn’t played 18 holes in two months before this week, and on Friday alone gutted through 26 holes in miserable conditions.
Korda and Wie dusted Moriya Jutanugarn and Pornanong Phatlum, 6 and 4, in the second round and were 1 down to Nasa Hataoka and Ayako Uehara of Japan when play was suspended. The third round may or may not continue on Saturday, depending on what Tropical Storm Kong-Rey has in store.
“If you hear a high-pitched scream,” said Wie of her upcoming time with the trainer.
Suzann Pettersen and Korda were the first players on tour to hire their own traveling physios, independent of the services provided by the LPGA. The practice has since become more commonplace. Wie never traveled with her own physio until last year and now considers it crucial to her success.
“We have to take care of our bodies,” said Korda. “The more we are traveling, the more we’re putting pressure on ourselves. The change of grass is constant, and our years are getting longer in a sense …”
And then Wie helped finish the thought: “And we’re not getting any younger.”
“We’re trying to prolong our careers,” Korda continued, “and if that means that we have to slap some tape on and go through a couple painful treatments, that’s what we are willing to do.”
Several weeks after Wie withdrew from the Ricoh Women’s British Open, she first eased back into things on the putting green. The next day she was too sore to pick up a golf club.
A couple of weeks before the International Crown, Wie phoned swing coach David Leadbetter in need of a plan. If she couldn’t work around the wrist injury, Leadbetter said, then she would need to consider surgery.
Using Steve Stricker as a model, they got to work on lessening the wrist action in her swing.
“Two pillars of her swing are how she sets the club and loads the club and how much lag she has,” said Leadbetter.
The familiar practice move in which Wie sets the club sharply and then stops, caused too much damage. The preferred move now is wider with less wrist cock. Leadbetter also thickened the the grips on her clubs and strengthened her right hand position. Wie practices with a ball between her elbows to feel the triangle going back and swinging through.
“She now has a Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus sort of takeaway,” said Leadbetter. “It’s a bit old-fashioned really. This day and age most players set the club a lot earlier than they did years ago.”
Less lag, however, hasn’t translated to a big loss in distance. If the timing is there, it’s about the same off the tee, a touch shorter with her irons.
“We’re trying to get the shaft to straighten up so there’s less lag,” he said. “There’s a consequence – the release feels more with her arms rather than her hands and wrist.”
Leadbetter joked that it’s swing No. 1,239 for Wie. Some of the tinkering has been out of necessity, some because a strong imagination won’t let her rest.
“There are definitely times where it’s hard,” said Wie of more changes. “It’s going to take some getting used to, something that I need to do for the longevity of my career. … Anytime you rip apart a swing it’s hard, but thankfully it’s not the first time I’ve done it.”
Leadbetter said Wie went to several hand surgeons in search of opinions.
“The bottom line is that she’s got some bone spurs there, which are affecting the nerves,” he said. “The more she sets and cocks her wrist, the more the nerve gets affected.”
During the layoff, Wie made the most of her time by strengthening her lower body. She talked to Korda daily about her progress and practiced with her before they left for South Korea. Last Saturday after a full practice session, Wie reported no pain in her wrist.
“It’s still a process,” she said, repeating a phrase that’s been a theme throughout her career.
“I’m not going to lie and say that it’s all better now, it’s all healed. It’s still a process that I’m going through, and we’re just going to have to keep going through it and see what the best road is for me. As of right now, I feel truly lucky to be here and playing and grinding it out. I feel good.”