Monday, June 23, 2014

Reflections on Michelle Wie's U.S. Women's Open Victory

Stacy Lewis made Michelle Wie earn her 1st major and earn it she did yesterday at the U.S. Women's Open.  Of all the 3-putt chances Wie avoided this past week at Pinehurst--and she avoided every single one of them!--the most important was her double-bogey save on the 16th.  I'm just glad I got to watch that hole, that putt, and her amazingly poised finish on 17 and 18 in the hotel in Cleveland the Full Metal Archivist, onechan, imoto, and I were staying in yesterday in advance of their early-morning flight to Japan today.  Since we were on the road for most of the final round, I won't try to recap the final round--see Tony Jesselli, bangkokbobby, Bill Rand, and Geoff Shackelford for that (and more).

Instead, let me just say how impressed I was with Michelle's 4th career LPGA victory and 2nd of 2014.  Long-time readers know I don't have Golf Channel, so being able to watch how she carries herself on the golf course was a special treat this week.  One thing that's totally clear is that she's all grown up, both on and off the course.  I knew from her stats how good her all-around game--and particularly her short game--has become, but seeing just how precise and consistent she can be on a course like Pinehurst is something else entirely.  As great as her putting was during a week in which 2 of the best putters in the world, Cristie Kerr and Inbee Park, missed the cut and finished back in the pack, respectively, what was most impressive to me was how much trust she had in her game.  She rolled with the bad bounces, bounced back from the inevitable mistakes you're going to make over 72 holes in a major, and smiled in the heat of competition.  This was truly the week when Michelle Wie came of age.

Looking ahead, it's hard not to be excited about her chances week in and week out for the foreseeable future.  For those prone to get overexcited, though, a word or 2 of caution.  Let's be clear:  Wie is not yet among the tour's true elite in terms of results over multiple years and careers.  Her win moves her up 4 spots to #15 in my ranking of the top performers in LPGA majors since 2000; the 204 points she gained in my system with her USWO win put her right behind Na Yeon Choi, Paula Creamer, and In-Kyung Kim and well behind So Yeon Ryu (among those who haven't yet won multiple LPGA majors in the 2000s), but she's already passed luminaries like Juli Inkster and Grace Park and has established a record that young guns Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko will now have to chase.  And of anyone who's won a USWO, she's perhaps best positioned to avoid what some would call the jinx and others the let-down that so often follows a victory in the toughest test of golf on the planet.  Forget fluke winners like Birdie Kim and Hillary Lunke:  even the greats have struggled after USWO wins.  It took Paula Creamer years to win again after mastering Oakmont's greens, while So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, and even Inbee Park have had trouble returning to the winner's circle since their USWO victories.

I may be adding the Mostly Harmless jinx to the USWO jinx by saying this, but I wouldn't be surprised if Michelle continued to contend the rest of the year and were to pick up 3 to 5 more wins.  With the Women's British Open a few weeks away, she's got to be the favorite for the LPGA's next major.  But this week in NW Arkansas will be an interesting test for her.  After finishing 2nd by 1 shot to Ya Ni Tseng in 2010, Wie went on to miss the cut in her next 3 starts in a row at this event.  Will she be burned out, looking ahead, or just plain off this week?  Or will she put herself right back in the mix again?  I vote for the latter.  I think she's ready to go on a run that will make the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 look like a runway.

[Update 1 (11:44 am):  Here's more from Golf Babes and Centurion!]


diane said...

"but she's already passed luminaries like Juli Inkster"

ahem... Juli Inkster has SEVEN major victories, including two US Women's Opens and is a Hall of Fame member.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I'm an enthusiastic and unrepentant Michelle Wie fan; but she has a long way to go to match Inkster, much less pass her.

Please tell me you were a little distressed over your family leaving for two months when you wrote that.

Colin N.Z said...

It's interesting how Lewis's strategy of working out where she has to put the ball on the green to give her the best chance of making a birdie is working. That's not to say she executed it well all four days but it is working for her. It's not the distance from the hole but which is the best angle of approach. I'm far from convinced that the putting system her, Nordqvist and Adam Scott is using is the way to go and hope Lydia who mentioned trying it waits to see if it holds up first. Still Wie's new approach to now not worrying to be so technical with her game is really working for her.

The Constructivist said...

My system only counts majors since 2000, Diane, as I mentioned a couple of sentences earlier. But you're right that my wording is imprecise in the sentence you quoted!

I think it's just common sense to be thinking about where you want to be playing your next shot from. I'm sure there's a complicated system for analyzing greens to figure out where the best odds of making birdie from are, but I'll bet you can estimate it pretty well without that much studying.

The Constructivist said...

Went ahead and edited the sentence you quoted from, Diane. Address your concern?

It's a sad truth that when you've had as long and illustrious a career as Inkster, "only" 2 majors in the last 14 years doesn't look s great when you factor in all the things that go into my ranking system. Not fair to Juli, but it's a "what have you done for me lately?"-oriented system. Annika, Karrie, and Se Ri would be looking better if I extended it all the way back, too. Maybe if I have time I'll develop a career ranking....

diane said...

Bruce, as soon as I clicked the "Publish" button I regretted the wording of my comment. Somehow I managed to lose your email address, which means I was unable to send a personal apology.

Anyway, yes, I was thinking record over a career, not "what have you done lately." I suppose Juli herself is to blame for staying out on tour at the age of 54.