June 20, 2014

Michelle Wie resists looking forward to Sunday, stays in the present

US Women’s Open leader Michelle Wie is halfway to her winning her first major, but she says it’s way too early to start thinking about lifting that trophy.

After sinking a par putt from about 20 feet, Michelle Wie walked off the 14th green.

"That’s how you win a tournament right there, Michelle!" a deep, husky male voice from the gallery called out. "Good job!"

When Wie finished her round Friday, she was in sole possession of the lead in the U.S. Women’s Open, at 4-under-par. She shot 2-under-par 68 on back-to-back days, and, already, has been asked plenty of times to skip ahead to Sunday and imagine winning her first major championship. Wie was even asked to give an example of an object she holds like a trophy (she said she did it with a salad bowl she received as a prize while recently golfing with Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel).

"Sunday is a very, very long time, far away," Wie reminded everyone for the second consecutive day. "You really can't think about Sunday, 18th hole, now. You have 36 holes to play."

Frequently, Wie repeated a mantra of hers: stay in the present. And while she (correctly) admitted it was cliché, it does make sense for a 24-year-old playing in her 11th U.S. Open. For so long, so much has been expected from Wie. Now that she’s playing some of the best golf of her career, she might as well enjoy it.

On the course, Wie is steely and focused, rarely acknowledging the crowd. She did make an exception for a pair of knee-high little girls standing outside the ropes near the fourth tee box and then again after saving another par with another putt from around 20 feet on par-3 No. 6. That kept her even for the day, and she ended her round with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 8 and 9.

Wie’s unconventional tabletop putting stance — she bends nearly 90 degrees at the waist so her back is almost parallel to the ground — continued to bring her success. Through 36 holes, Wie has yet to three-putt on a green, and she’s averaging just 1.53 putts per hole. She had three long par saves Friday (on Nos. 14, 2 and 6) in addition to her three birdie putts on Nos. 18, 8 and 9, each from the 12-15 feet range. She just had one bogey, on No. 1, as a failed flop shot rolled back down the green and was followed by a two-putt.

With her new and improved putter (it’s 4-1/2 degrees flatter this week), Wie’s decision to play it safe on many holes didn’t cost her on the scorecard. That’s what she was most pleased about after her round — her game management, picking her spots to take aggressive shots carefully. At No. 3, a par-4 shortened to 229 yards, Wie asked her playing partner, Catriona Matthew, if she was going to go for the green. Both opted not to, as Wie hit a hybrid left of the hole before chipping and two-putting for par.

"I went through a phase where I was too aggressive," Wie said. "I went through a phase where I was maybe not aggressive enough. And I think I've learned from both situations. Hopefully, being a little bit older, I’m a little bit wiser, probably not the case, but hopefully that's the case."

Wie isn’t obsessing over every shot this weekend (staying true to her goal to stay in the present), as she had "no clue" how many times she hit driver when asked after her round. She also laughed as it took her more than a couple of seconds to recall specific shots she was asked about — but that’s all by design, not dwelling on the past.

After her media obligations, Wie headed to lunch. That would be followed by a workout, she said, and then she’d have dinner around 5 p.m. Some quality time watching Game of Thrones would follow, and then it would be time for bed.

"Like 8:30," Wie said. "I don't make it to 9."

She doesn’t take herself too seriously. When asked about the Kinesio tape she had on her left leg — two long camouflage pieces on her thigh, pink stripes wrapped behind and on both sides of her kneecap and two more camo strips down her calf and along one side — Wie said she "thinks" it makes her leg feel better, helping with inflammation. But it serves another purpose as well.

"I just think it looks cool, too," she said. "Makes me look really hard."

As hard as any 24-year-old veteran atop the U.S. Women’s Open heading into the weekend can look, at least.

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