Michelle Wie victory selfie is the best shot with the trophy!
Michelle Wie won her first LPGA Tour event in the United States and she did it here in Hawaii. It was an exciting come from behind victory on her home course at Ko Olina Golf Club. Wie came from four shots back to win the LPGA LOTTE Championship, her first victory on the LPGA Tour in four years. Her last win was at the 2010 Canadian Women’s Open.
Wie, heralded child prodigy now 24 years old, seems to be just hitting her stride with her game and on the LPGA Tour. A week earlier, Wie finished the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year, alone in second place.
With Angela Stanford going into the final day playing fabulous golf on the wind swept Ewa plain, Wie kept her play steady and firing off three birdies in the first six holes. Stanford wasn’t answering and Wie’s 15-foot birdie putt on the par-4 sixth cut Stanford’s lead to one shot.
By the end of the first 9 holes, we were watching a three-way tie between Wie, Stanford and Hyo Joo Kim, who plays on the KLPGA and in the LPGA LOTTE on a sponsor’s exemption.
Seeing the three tied for first, “T1” on leaderboard for 3 holes mid round got the crowd, the largest ever for the LPGA LOTTE, into a state of anticipation we haven’t seen in Hawaii in a long time, if ever.
With a birdie putt, Wie took the lead for good at the par-3 12th. The gallery could be heard in the stands at the difficult 18th finishing hole, as the final group played its way from the 15th to the finish.
Michelle Wie, the artist, in this selfie.
From my LPGA LOTTE Championship diary:
Saturday, Day 4 at Ko Olina
She started on the practice putting green before going to the driving range. But she didn’t stay on the range long.
She’d been hitting her driver beautifully off the tee on.
She was totally in control of her irons.
She shot a beauty, looked like she used a 6-iron, out of the fairway bunker on the second hole on Friday. The ball rolled on the green six feet shy of the hole. The putt for birdie rolled a little too slow as it stopped just short of the hole. Again.
The putts on Friday repeatedly rolled just close enough to the hole for the collective breath-holding groan-release from the gallery. The gallery. Like a coral colony, we were individuals operating as a collective as we gathered for each putt.
It was a very supportive, emotionally engaged, gallery. The fans were charged up, certain victory was theirs because Wie was too good to fail them this time. It’s been like that her entire life.
Gallery was large on Friday and huge on Saturday. And they made noise!
Michelle Wie isn’t just playing golf for herself and family. She is playing golf for the state of Hawaii. She always has been. Her fans have been rabid supporters her entire career. But the lows have been difficult. Those fans are quick to turn and often the first to voice their criticism if their hopes are dashed.
I could hear the commentary as her putts stopped short. She hesitated says one. Not aggressive enough from another.
Another miss goes the groan. You can’t help but wonder how much of the commentary the players hear while trying to concentrate just feet away.
Wie started her final day on Saturday with a four-stroke deficit against the brilliant play of Angela Stanford in a relentless wind. Blowing a steady 15 to 25 miles an hour with stronger guests the whole week, on Saturday it’s coming straight out of the east.
Saturday, the final day, Michelle Wie stayed on the practice putting green right up to her tee time.
I caught up with Wie Saturday mid morning on the practice green. Her father, wearing a shirt in the same shade of orange as his daughter, stands next or moves opposite her, watching while her caddie assists in the putting drill.
It’s obviously a grooved routine. Caddie places putting aide near hole. Wie putts. Caddy moves putting aide to another angle. Wie putts. Around they go. Working the green length wise and crosswise. Her table stop stance, bent from the waist at 90 degrees, still surprises me watching her in person.
This angle shows how low Michelle Wie goes to get into her putting stance.
I’m almost accustomed to seeing her bend into her putting stance. Still my eyes widen in surprise as she reaches to the point she is perpendicular to the ground and ready. Wie says it doesn’t hurt her back like the regular putting stance does. You gotta have strong hamstrings to copy Wie!
Her pre round routine pace is picking up. Wie is off to work her long game. She picks the far right side of the driving range. It looks like Wie is using her 6-iron, the same club I thought she used coming out of the fairway bunker Friday. Her practice movements with her iron are very deliberate. She didn’t stay long. She hit a few balls but she went back to the putting green.
Later, the media center talking with reporters, she said she knew she had to shoot a great round to win. A great round only happens if the putts drop.
I’m standing behind the ropes on the driving range. I see Angela Stanford is preparing for her round. Christie Kerr is to Stanford’s left. Wie takes the open spot to Stanford’s right. Neither Stanford nor Kerr were using their driver while I was watching. They were warming up with their irons, the go-to club with the wind blowing strong.
Hint: Put more emphasis on your putting and irons or hybrids and less on your driver while getting ready for your game.
Just to the left of Kerr, on a ridge overlooking the 18th green sits the Golf Channel broadcast “booth”. It was cool seeing Golf Channel LPGA Leading Analyst Judy Rankin and Play-by-Play Host Terry Gannon top to talk with Stanford on their way to work.
After walking the course for 12 holes, seeing the 3-way tie for the lead disappear and Wie comfortably at the top of the leaderboard, I decided it was time to get into position to see her win under the hot sun in the 18th hole stands. You could feel it was going to happen.
Group after group came through laying up to the waters edge before hitting onto the green. Those who tried to go for the green ended up in the water more often than not. It wasn’t pretty.
Wie didn’t lay up but her approach onto the green left her ball pin high with a difficult downhill putt. In the stands, we held our breath. Stanford was getting her roll on again. A downhill miss could easily leave Wie scrambling with a three putt, maybe a four. We’d been watching player after player putt that hole location. If she gave it just a little too much the ball would easily pick up speed and roll past the hole and into those four-foot putt positions that can kill a round.
Wie stroked it cautiously. The ball rolled just past the hole but it stopped before the slope to the pond caught it. Her putt back up to the hole got her in close enough to give her an easy tap in for the win. It wasn’t a pretty finish on the green. But a fantastic win.
I caught this photo of the moment of victory.
Some people have since told me they didn’t think Wie was popular with the girls on the LPGA Tour. They were surprised when the other players came out to give her a victory champagne shower.
The glorious win with the champagne shower led by Christina Kim and Cristie Kerr.
Wie is very popular with the members of the LPGA Tour in part because she is sweet, honest, artistic and very involved in making the Tour great. She works on member committees, works with charities and spends hours with fans signing autographs. If you think it’s easy getting your hat in for a signature, think again. It’s a scrum!
1st annual Ping Pong Tournament to benefit Hawaii State Junior Golf Association
The evening after her victory, Wie was on her way to play in her annual Ping Pong tournament to benefit the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association. Participants pay for the right to play in the tournament.
Wie came close to taking home a second trophy but Hawaii resident and Hawaii 5-0 star Daniel Dae Kim was the victor.
CHILD PRODIGY LYDIA KO
Lydia Ko wins her first event as a professional at LPGA Swinging Skirts at Lake Merced in San Francisco.
We’ve been talking about 17 year old Lydia Ko since the age of 14 when she won her first professional event. It happened in New Zealand where the South Korean born was raised.
In these short three years, she has won six professional events, three of them on the LPGA Tour. On April 27th, Ko won her first professional event as a professional on the LPGA Tour, the LPGA Swinging Skirts in San Francisco.
And by the way, she was named as Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world that week.
Ko is a very mature teenager. She was faced with huge adjustments early in life when moving from one culture to another at a young age. That grows you up. That doesn’t mean she isn’t a fun loving kid! Check out the video she made to announce she was turning professional.
At LPGA LOTTE Championship, I checked in on several groups always within earshot of the roars for Wie. But 17-year old Ko, 16 that Saturday, was not having a great round. She was not within earshot of the winners. She was not a contender.
The talk around her that week was about her caddies. She had let her third go since turning professional. All of them were seasoned PGA Tour caddies.
I couldn’t help but wonder how a young woman could bond with older men who’d been picking clubs on the men’s tour.
Women play the course much differently; their yardages aren’t the same. Sure a professional caddie could make adjustments and work for a woman but I hear all the time that professional golfers like to talk about anything but golf between shots. She’d have little in common with any of the older guys.
Saturday I was trying to figure out what had happened to caddie she started the week with. I didn’t recognize the man carrying her bag. I’d never seen his mannerisms.
On the green, he held the flagstick behind his back with arms wrapped around the flag. The flag half stuck out on his right side, the other side of the stick stuck out on his left. It was an odd sight as he danced behind Ko, bent over reading and lining up her putts.
On one hole, he bent down to line the driver head for her drive. I’d never seen anyone have his or her driver lined up.
I leaned over to one of my friends and whispered,” Did I really just see her caddie line up her driver?” My friend, a very skilled, knowledgeable player, nodded yes.
Turns out her father was pinch hitting as caddie. Dad reportedly didn’t think the caddies she’d been using could read greens. Ko used a local caddie for the LPGA Swinging Skirts at Lake Merced. His local knowledge apparently helped read the greens just fine.
Tip: Just because you’re having an off day, don’t give up. Lydia Ko was not on her game at LPGA LOTTE but she won the next week at Lake Merced in San Francisco, a course some say could host a major championship if it had room for spectators and support mechanism.
FINAL WORD ON LOTTE
I would like to apologize to Christie Kerr for the patron’s behavior in the outdoor bar overlooking the 18th green. It was moderately amusing hearing the roars from the bar after hearing them from a distance a moment earlier. The bar patrons were obviously watching the televised action with the televised delay.
They were oblivious to the action on the 18th green, just to their left and a few feet below the bar. While Wie was increasing her lead two holes behind, Kerr was trying to focus on the final putt of her round. We could hear Wie’s gallery in the distance. Then the patrons in the bar let out a raucous outcry. Kerr looked up at the bar and gestured, a disgruntled but not impolite, gesture. The problem was – they were watching TV and didn’t see her.
I want to thank all of the volunteers who make the LPGA Tour possible. These are two of my friends. They worked the whole week!
DRIVE CHIP PUTT FOR HAWAII KIDS!!!
It’s been described as the most important thing to happen in golf. The logic goes if the kids aren’t playing golf, their parents aren’t playing either. The parents are shuttling the kids to basketball, soccer, and volleyball: everything but golf.
Augusta National Golf Club, PGA of America and USGA created a competition for junior golfers that culminates in a national championship that is played on Augusta National Golf Club property, inside the gates the week before The Masters. Without Augusta National, it wouldn’t be the carrot it is. So go get it!
Get your kids or grandkids signed up!
Here’s the link: http://www.drivechipandputt.com/
With Hawaii’s unique geographical location in mind, the PGA of America granted the Aloha Sections request to hold qualifiers on all islands and a sub regional in Hawaii.
Children who win their sub regional will go to the mainland to compete in the regional in hopes of making it to the Drive, Chip, Putt National Championship finals at Augusta National.
Maui at Wailea Leadbetter Academy on May 31st.
Kauai at Puakea on June 21st.
Hawaii at Hilo Muni on June 24th.
Oahu at Kapolei on July 5th.
Ko Olina on July 19th.
Torrey Pines in San Francisco September 13th.
Augusta National Golf Club April 5th, 2015.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
My dentist retired and I started shopping around for a replacement. Never thought about shopping for a dentist. After visiting with several, I found a great dentist. His name is Armand Kainoa Chong. He comes highly recommended. In case you’re shopping around, Dr. Chong’s number is 808 737 3525
“THE GOLF CLUB” RADIO SHOW and PODCAST – MY SHOW!
We’re continuing the great Bridgestone Golf Ball giveaway this month. Tune in to win your dozen Bridgestone Golf balls!
“The Golf Club” is on the radio on Oahu on 99.5 FM Saturday morning from 7am until 8:30am. The show is re-aired at 4 pm Saturday afternoon.
On Maui, you can listen on 104.7 FM, on Kauai 99.9 FM and in Hilo, on KPUA AM 670.
Prefer a podcast? Pick us up at iTunes or through our RSS feed at http://www.radiogolfclub.com/. Or get the Stitcher app for your smart phone. It’ll stream the show through your phone without taking up any memory.
Thank you for your Mana and may you hit the sweet spot every time.