When the top women golfers kick off the LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii on Wednesday, all eyes will be on the 2:55 p.m. (ET) threesome on the first tee. That’s when former teen prodigy Michelle Wie will get a first-hand look at today’s big-hitting wunderkind, 17-year-old Lexi Thompson.
Joining the two stars in the first two rounds at Ko Olina Golf Club in Oahu will be another youngster, 19-year-old Jessica Korda, which officially makes Wie, at the advanced age of 22, the old lady of the group.
You remember The Big Wiesy, right? The tall, lanky lass from Honolulu was the next big thing in women’s golf when she burst onto the scene as a pre-teen with a long, fluid swing and a 300-yard drive. The soon-to-be Stanford graduate with two tour wins has heard the criticism from observers who believe she never lived up to the huge hype that followed her from the LPGA to the PGA Tour and back again.
This week, the native Hawaiian has to hope that home cooking will help kickstart her post-college career. For sure, after missing the cuts in her last two starts, at the Kia Classic and the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wie needs to take something positive from a return to Oahu, where she honed her craft as a youngster.
Because not much has gone well for Wie this season. In addition to her awful putting (her average of 31.75 putts per round ranks 125th on tour), Wie’s not even among the longest hitters out there. Her average driving distance of 255 yards (ranked 44th) is well back of Brittany Lincicome’s and Yani Tseng’s tour-leading 275 yards.
But it’s on the greens where Wie has seemed most awkward for some time. Hours of practice have not helped, nor did her short-lived experiment with a long putter, which she has since exchanged for a conventional-length flat stick.
“It's been back and forth for quite a long time, which I don't like doing, but I had to find something comfortable,” Wie told reporters before the Kraft Nabisco began last month at Mission Hills Country Club. “I have to trust my instincts. Sometimes I have a very large tendency to overthink and try too hard, and putting is one of those things that cannot work so well when you try too hard.
“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is try less,” she said, “and that's what I'm trying to do with my putting is just go out there and hit it.”
Whether Wie can recapture the elusive magic of her youth is just one of the questions the tour’s return to Hawaii for the first time in two years may answer. Thompson, who last year became the youngest player to win an LPGA event and then turned pro, has been struggling this season as well. With her best finish in 2012 a tie for 14th in February’s LPGA Thailand event, will Lexi make a move up the leaderboard this week?
I.K. Kim, who blew winning her first major when she missed that one-foot putt on the final hole of regulation at the Kraft Nabisco, will have plenty of fans wishing her well this week. Can she come back from such a hideous brain cramp?
And, of course, there’s Yani Tseng. The top-ranked player in women’s golf has won three of the first six events she’s started this season, but the pressure seemed to get to her down the stretch of the year’s first major. Will the youngest golfer ever to win five majors rebound from a disappointing third-place finish in Dinah’s tourney to grab her 16th career LPGA Tour title?
For the answers to these and many more queries (like, can 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champ Paula Creamer ever win again?), tune into Golf Channel at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Wednesday through Saturday nights.