Injury unfortunate timing for Wie, LPGA
In June, Michelle Wie had a breakthrough: She won her first major championship, and she did it by navigating a tough course better than anyone else. Her U.S. Women's Open victory at Pinehurst No. 2 was the triumph of a more mature Wie, someone who stayed patient and didn't take unnecessary risks.
So perhaps the news Saturday that Wie will be out three to five weeks with a hand injury is in part indicative of Wie deciding it's best not to push it when she doesn't feel right physically.
Even if the timing is unfortunate.
The LPGA's fourth major -- remember, they have five now -- starts Thursday at Monroe Golf Club in suburban Rochester, New York. Wie won't be competing there. And if her recovery time is at the long end of the estimation, she may not be available for the fifth major, the Evian Championship, which is Sept. 11-14 in France.
It also means there's not much more opportunity for American crowds to get to see Wie in 2014. After the LPGA Championship, the tour closes out August with tournaments in Canada and Portland, Oregon, which Wie will miss.
Then there are only two more LPGA events in the United States for the rest of the year: Sept. 18-21 in Alabama, and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Florida on Nov. 20-23. The LPGA spends all of October and early November in Asia.
Especially with a recent major title under her belt, Wie would have been one of the most intriguing players at the LPGA Championship. Instead, the No. 6-ranked woman in the world will be on the sidelines. And long term, we may have to slightly recalibrate how to access Wie's 2014 season. It still has been very good: She has 10 top-10 finishes -- the most in a season in her LPGA career -- in 16 events.
But depending on how long she's away and how well she plays when she returns, 2014 may fall short of being quite as complete a success as Wie would have hoped.
On June 28, you would have said Wie was really on a roll coming off the win at Pinehurst. That day she shot a second consecutive 66 and had the second-round lead at the 54-hole Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. At that point, Wie looked poised to win her third tournament of the year.
But she had a final-round 73, tied for eighth, and hasn't played well since. She shot 75-78 and missed the cut at the Women's British Open. She followed that with rounds of 74-76 at the Marathon Classic and again missed the cut. Wie wasn't on the U.S. team at the International Crown, and so her chance to get back on track was this past week at the Meijer LPGA Classic in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
However, halfway through the first round there, she withdrew, saying she wasn't sure what was wrong, but that she was having a hard time gripping a club. Wie announced Saturday what her injury was: a stress reaction in a bone of her right-hand index finger.
In a release from Wie's management company, the doctor who examined her said the injury was "influenced by the volume in which she practices and plays."
But Wie has completed just four competitive rounds in the past six weeks. And while Wie undoubtedly has worked harder on her game in recent years, she isn't known for practicing to excess.
Stress reactions, though, are typically difficult injuries to really "treat" -- rest is generally the only remedy.
Pro athletes in every sport have to make these decisions all the time: When is it better to ease up, and when can you actually gut your way through something?
Wie was quoted in the release as saying in the past, she'd have been more likely to try to push through an injury and keep playing. But she said she understands better now that the long-term price to pay for that could be steep.
Wie had a wrist injury in 2007 that plagued her for much of the year and seemed to linger into 2008. She played just seven LPGA tournaments both those years -- she was not yet a member of the tour -- and didn't finish better than 12th in that stretch.
She got her tour card for the 2009 season, and has played at least 19 LPGA events every year since. She played in 26 tournaments last year, her most ever in an LPGA season. In general, you'd have to say Wie has been pretty durable since she officially joined the tour.
While this hiatus puts a bit of a damper on 2014 for Wie, especially if it stretches to include the Evian, she's still just 24. Wie says she's learned to listen to her body better, and that's a good thing.
Particularly if she really can play well to wrap up the 2014 season and then carry some momentum into 2015. That is a Solheim Cup year, and also has a January LPGA tournament held in the United States for the first time since 2001.
Wie definitely will be missed at this LPGA Championship, though, and that can't be helped.