U.S. Women's Open 2013: Annika Sorenstam defends Michelle Wie’s awkward putting stance

Ross Kinnaird

Michelle Wie’s off-putting putting stroke may make you wince but it seems to be working for the two-time LPGA Tour winner.

Michelle Wie’s new, homegrown putting stance that has her bent 90 degrees from the waist over the golf ball has come under withering criticism from former LPGA players, current PGA Tour golfers, and pundits alike. But the two-time tour winner and former teen prodigy received support for her awkward carriage from an unlikely source -- Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam.

“I know she’s tried everything and eventually you have to try something new,” Sorenstam said during a Thursday teleconference promoting next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. “When that putter releases and you make some putts, the tension in your long game is going to go away and you’re going to play so much better, and that’s what I think [Wie] needs.

The posture, about which 26-time LPGA Tour winner and mild-mannered Judy Rankin saw “nothing good,” and which European Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter called “horrible,” actually seems to be working for Wie, who will start her sixth U.S. Women’s Open as a professional next week.

Wie’s putting stats have improved, as has her game. She recorded two consecutive T9 finishes in her most recent starts, the ShopRite LPGA Classic and Wegmans LPGA Classic, both earlier this month. The uptick followed two straight missed cuts and five overall this season.

On the greens, she ranks 47th in putting average on tour this year -- up from 126th in 2012. She’s also averaging 29.69 putts per round, compared with 31.16 last year.

Despite the better results, Sorenstam’s Golf Channel colleague, Kay Cockerill agreed with the naysayers.

“I personally do not like the putting stance,” said Cockerill, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. “I find it amazing that she can even stand in that position.”

Wie, of whom great things were predicted when she exploded onto the U.S. golf scene at age 10, a remarkable 13 years ago, has experimented with all manner of methods -- from conventional putters to belly bats, claw grips, and now what Lorne Rubenstein called “Wiegeling.”

Sorenstam, who conceded she attempted various approaches to boost her play on the greens, including left-hand low, understood the motivation behind Wie’s current efforts.

“When things don’t go right, we experiment,” said the winner of three U.S. Women’s Opens who has been a frequent critic of the 23-year-old Stanford graduate’s failure to live up to her pre-teen hype.

“You try a lot of different things because when you don’t make putts, there’s nothing more frustrating,” Sorenstam said. “You’re hitting fairways and...greens and there are opportunities and you can’t convert them.”

With Wie’s game at that point, Sorenstam supported her decision to “try anything.

“This is her idea,” said Sorenstam, who, along with Cockerill, Dan Hicks, and Gary Koch, will be in the broadcast booth for Golf Channel and NBC’s weekend coverage of the Open. “I know she’s tried everything and eventually you have to try something new. When that putter releases and you make some putts, the tension in your long game is going to go away and you’re going to play so much better.”

Whether it’s a new-found confidence in her short game or some other intangible, Wie has definitely played better of late. Besides, Sorenstam posited, Wie’s current putting position “probably stabilizes her upper body a little bit more.”

While disparaging Wie’s posture, Cockerill gave her big ups for willing to face ridicule for it.

“I have to tip my hat to her because it takes a bit of guts to do something very different and risk being made fun of,” said Cockerill, who noted that the position was Wie’s own concoction, not that of her current putting coach, David Leadbetter, or that of past teachers Gary Gilchrist or Dave Stockton.

“She’s been told what to do so much that if this was truly her own idea and her own experiment that she felt strongly about...I applaud her for that," Cockerill said.

Hunched over, anchoring, or employing an eagle clasp, with putting so essential at a U.S. Open, Wie’s putting -- and that of everyone else in the field -- will be put to the test next week.

The U.S. Women's Open will run from June 27-June 30. Wie, by the way, has not fared well in her national championship. In five turns since turning pro in 2005, her best finish was a T35 in 2012.

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