Welcome to the second in my series of blogs analysing the games and predicting the futures of selected Tour Pros. This week I take a look at the ladies game, focusing on American Solheim Cup player Michelle Wie.
Wie is a fascinating subject. Bursting onto the scene as a precocious, smooth swinging, long-hitting teenager the media built her up to dominate the Women’s game. Wie competed in multiple mens events as a teenager including the Sony Open in 2004 at the tender age of 14 in her native state of Hawaii where a second round of 68 (the lowest ever by a female in a men’s tour event) led to a missed cut by a single stroke.
Sadly injuries and putting struggles took a toll on the development of Wie’s game before a stirring victory in the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst reignited interest in the former teen phenom. Wie continues to ply her trade near the top of the Women’s game on the LPGA Tour but has yet to add to her major wins.
The Hawaiian attracts a huge amount of interest off the course. With a creative personality and keen interests in art and fashion, Wie has a huge social media following and is a key face in the powerful Nike athlete stable.
Returning to her golf, the stats illustrate an interesting development in her game:
Distance (yds) Fairways GIR Score Putting Sandsaves Money List
- 2018 260 67% 72% 70.5 29.2 36% 12
- 2017 260 73% 72% 70.5 29.6 53% 19
- 2016 262 56% 63% 73.0 30.0 53% 105
- 2015 257 61% 69% 71.9 30.3 43% 49
- 2014 257 67% 77% 69.8 29.9 48% 4
- 2013 254 62% 69% 71.7 29.9 48% 41
- 2012 269 53% 66% 73.5 31.2 40% 64
- 2011 268 53% 65% 74.2 30.6 42% 18
- 2010 275 54% 73% 71.3 30.7 39% 9
- 2009 269 58% 70% 70.6 29.6 42% 14
Close analysis of the stats reveals that when she came onto Tour in 2009, Wie possessed a game that closely resembled the figures on the men’s tour – a focus on driving distance (270yds+) over accuracy (50% fairways) contributing to 70%+ GIR.
As she has got older and perhaps niggling injuries have had an effect, Wie has transitioned her game. Despite improvements in equipment technology, she has lost around 15 yards average driving distance, but is hitting 15% more fairways. Since 2017, she has returned consistent GIR stats to match her best ever in this category.
The changes in Wie’s technique demonstrate perfectly the reasons for the transition in her game:
Very few players at the top level seem to tinker and change their techniques as often as Wie. Perhaps only Rickie Fowler on the mens side is comparable. Every week there seems to be a noticeable alteration to her swing and/or putting stroke. Her long-time coach David Leadbetter readily admits that he gets frustrated as Wie’s creative side seems to prevent her from sticking to one method for too long.
I have picked some key areas that have changed to demonstrate the trade-offs that Wie has made to gain accuracy at the cost of distance.
On the left, the natural, relaxed set-up from 2004 was the pre-cursor to the loose, athletic and powerful motion she employed at the time. The photo on the right is from 2018 and shows a more angular, rigid address position designed to limit the range of motion that she achieves in the swing and promote consistency.
At the top of the backswing in 2003 (left) you can see a huge turn of the shoulders and hips to create a huge amount of torque to release through the ball. By comparison, the up to date photo on the right sees a very restricted turn and very little weight transfer to the right side. The club is in a much shorter position and everything looks ‘tighter’.
This is the position in the swing that perhaps demonstrates the changes better than anything, with the super flexible, loose limbed action (left) replaced with the more controlled finish she now employs on the right.
Wie went through some well documented putting troubles in 2012 and has devised some creative ways to overcome these demons. For a couple of years, she utilised a unique ‘table-top’ posture:
These days, Wie emphasises her unique, quirky personality by seemingly employing different set-ups to her putts depending on her mood, from conventional, to cross-handed, to the claw-grip, to variations of the table-top.:
You would think this lack of consistency would be harmful, but 2018 sees Wie currently enjoying her best putting stats ever.
Michelle Wie is a very difficult player to predict. She is definitely super-talented and works so hard at her game. She has struggled with injuries which could return to restrict her future career. Part of me thinks that she has the type of personality to suddenly grow restless and move on to be successful at something other than golf.
I have to admit that I preferred the look of Wie’s swing from her early days on Tour – such great tempo and power. The stats show however, that Wie’s current game is strong. If she can raise her short game up just a little (particularly bunker play) then more major victories could await.
Whatever the future holds for Michelle Wie, like her career so far, it is sure to be fun to watch.