Long Wie From Home

A business trip to Hawaii is a little like vacationing at the DMV, although it’s far more likely you’d rather crunch numbers in the Aloha State than pitch a tent in the driver’s license renewal line. Of all the trips I made halfway across the Pacific Ocean over the years, none left a greater impression than the journey in 2004.

Michelle Wie’s performance in her first PGA Tour event remains the peak moment in a career that has never come close to reaching its expected altitude. To shoot 72-68 and miss the cut by a single stroke at the ’04 Sony Open was universally classified as a colossal success, but a decade later, one can see how it stunted Wie’s growth as a player and led to her becoming the landmark underachiever she is today.

Two victories in 154 starts on the LPGA? Even the snarkiest cynic couldn’t have envisioned such a paltry win total 10 years ago. In five seasons as a full-time LPGA member, Wie’s best finish on the money list was ninth in 2010—her last W came at the Canadian Women’s Open that August. She was 64th on the money list in 2012, 41st with just four top-10s in 26 starts in ’13. (Click here for video of Wie discussing her life on and off the course)

As much as I suspected that it might all go wrong, I could never have imagined that Wie would begin 2014 ranked 61st in the world, having gone 7 ½ years without a top-five finish at a major. Rarely has yesterday’s news sustained such relevance. It’s almost as if the golf gods got fed up with the hyperbolization and glorification of a 14-year-old girl and decided as a committee to do something about it.

Too much + Too soon = Epic swoon. Before we explore why, let’s look at a couple of guys who haven’t been such pronounced busts.

WHEN’S THE LAST time two of America’s best young players took on new swing coaches at the start of a season? Keegan Bradley’s decision to leave Jim McLean, with whom he’d worked since 2009, might have come about, in part, from his friendship with Michael Jordan, who had a pretty good NBA career, at least as a player.

Jordan and Bradley play a lot of golf together – His Airness is said to have encouraged Bradley to work on his mental toughness. But it was the influence of Jason Dufner, another Bradley companion, that led Keegs to longtime instructor Chuck Cook.

Bradley will kick off his 2014 this week at the Humana Challenge, as will Rickie Fowler, who recently enlisted the services of Butch Harmon in an effort to take his game to the next level. Both high-profile players went winless on the PGA Tour in 2013. Fowler ended up 40th on the ’13 money list, 29 spots behind Bradley, who did finish second at the Byron NelsonChampionship and T-2 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“I’ve been around the game a long time – these things happen,” McLean told me last Saturday. “Keegan finished first in the overall ranking in 2012 and fourth last year, [but] he didn’t win. When he got down here [Miami] in ’09 he only had one side-view mirror on his car, and that was held on by duct tape, so it’s been a great ride.”

McLean was referring to their four-plus years together, not the banged-up automobile. There are a couple of things a veteran golf writer generally avoids analyzing, and a swing-coach change is one of them. The world’s best golfers are constantly striving to get better, and they obviously know what’s best for them from a mechanical standpoint.

That said, there isn’t much anyone can do to improve Bradley’s ball-striking. In 2013, he was the only player to rank among the top 15 in driving distance and top 125 in driving accuracy – Keegs placed 11th and 61st, an exceptionally rare and productive combo. He ranked third in par-5 scoring, 14th in proximity to the hole from 50 to 125 yards. If you’re looking for weaknesses in the guy’s statistical profile, good luck.

His putting numbers weren’t spectacular, but at 49th overall, Bradley certainly holed more putts than a majority of his fellow competitors. If Jordan thinks his boy needs to get tougher between the ears, OK, but I think of Bradley as a very talented young player who has capitalized nicely on his opportunities.

In all three of his victories, someone left the door open, and the big Vermonter ran through it like a blitzing linebacker. I would just be careful, taking advice from someone who used the first pick in an NBA draft on Kwame Brown.

Source : The Golf Channel

posted at 13 Jan 2014 23:57:05



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