Michelle Wie hopes to repeat success in Canada
Now, here's something you don't hear very often: Michelle Wie returns this week to defend an LPGA title. Since joining the LPGA in 2009, the most-hyped and recognizable American name in women's golf has two tournament victories, the last coming one year ago when she won the Canadian Women's Open by three shots.
Now, she's at Hillsdale Golf & Country Club outside Montreal to begin first-round play Thursday, hoping to do it all over again. After making big news as a junior golf prodigy and drawing world attention by taking every opportunity to play against male pros, Wie seemed to take it for granted that LPGA success would come easily. Instead, success has been scarce.
Rather than springboarding off last year's win, Wie has labored through much of this year. In 13 tournaments, she has four top-10s, and in her last five tourneys she hasn't finished better than 28th.
Along the way, golf's patience has worn thin. Former players Dottie Pepper and Annika Sorenstam suggested during U.S. Women's Open week that Wie has not lived up to expectations or her talent. While she is still only 21 and preparing for her senior year at Stanford, Wie does play a full schedule. World No. 1 Yani Tseng, who already has five majors, is only one year older.
"Obviously, golf is a very long road, and I've had my ups and downs," Wie told reporters Tuesday at Hillsdale. "But I think, you know, through all of that I've been learning about myself. I do know that I need to be better and I need to work harder at my game, and I want to be at a higher level, and that obviously requires a lot of work. And you know, I'm enjoying it. I think that's the most important thing.''
At No. 14 in the world, Wie remains one of the top-ranked Americans, trailing only No. 3 Cristie Kerr, No. 9 Paula Creamer, No. 10 Stacy Lewis and No. 13 Morgan Pressel. Wie just qualified for her second U.S. Solheim Cup team, which will take on Europe next month in Ireland. Still, she remains an easy target because of the hype that arrived on tour long before she did.
A media question this week directed at veteran Lorie Kane sums up how Wie's career is viewed: When [Wie] was 15, it looked like she was going to dominate golf, and now she's 21 and she's doing OK but not dominating. Do you think that she will at some point in the next few years become what people thought she would be for the last decade?
Kane admitted she wasn't sure what to say. "How does one answer that question?" she said. "I'm going to tell you Michelle's probably one of the most talented golfers I've ever seen.
"But it's not about hitting the ball. It's about scoring. It's about learning to play the game. And the more she plays, the more confident she's going to become. And then she's going to get tired of being 10th, 15th, 20, whatever and she's going to win. And she'll win a lot.''
A field of 156 players will be playing for a $2.25 million purse and a $337,500 first-prize check. Seventeen of the top 20 players in the Rolex World Rankings are on hand, including No. 1 Tseng and No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, who moved up one spot after coming from nine shots back in the final round of the Safeway Classic to defeat No. 5 Na Yeon Choi in a playoff Sunday. Pettersen, 30, pushed past Kerr, who had held the No. 2 spot behind Tseng all season, but refrained from celebrating the accomplishment.
"Yeah, well, No. 2 ranking doesn't really mean much to me," she told reporters Sunday. "I'm trying to chase down Yani. To chase down her, you've got to win tournaments. I went one step in the right direction."
The Canadian Women's Open title would be a very big deal for a Canadian. Alas, a Canadian has not won an LPGA Tour event on her home soil since Jocelyne Bourassa did it in 1973. Eighteen Canadian golfers are in this week's field, and they all are aware of the drought.
"Every year we come here everybody's like, 'OK, a Canadian hasn't won here since the '70s,'" Jessica Sharp said during Tuesday's interview session. "And every Canadian player would love to win a Canadian Open, just like most Americans want to win the U.S. Open. Yeah, it's a big dream of mine. I would hope that I can get a shot at it before I retire. So I have a lot of years left in me, and hopefully this week I'll be in the running come Sunday onto that last green."
According to her Facebook page, after winning last month's Evian Masters, Japan's Ai Miyazato donated 20 million yen -- or the equivalent of about $261,000 of the $487,500 first-place check -- to her foundation that is helping Japanese relief efforts for earthquake and tsunami victims.
"Obviously, to be able to donate, I felt very good about it," Miyazato said through a translator during last week's Safeway Classic. "But I want to be able to keep doing it for the long term. It's not just because after the win at Evian, but I'd like to keep on contributing in the future as well."
Tseng a happy song
After winning last month's Women's British Open for her fifth career major, Tseng, 22, took a break to return home to Taiwan to visit family and perform sponsor obligations. The visit also reminded Tseng of her new place in her countrymen's eyes.
"More people recognized me when I walked on the street and people were always congratulating me," Tseng told reporters during the Safeway Classic. "They always say, 'Oh, good job and keep going.' It just feels like a lot of fun. You know, when you walk on the street, the people are looking at you, so it was very different."
Perhaps the biggest sense of pride for Tseng regarding her accomplishments is the increased awareness it's brought to the game of golf in Taiwan.
"It seems like this time when I go back and see more people know about golf, and more young people are starting to play golf too which is really nice," she said. "I'm very happy about that, too."