Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

What’s the Difference?

And in other sports news of this past weekend…

(Other than the US/Portugal version of the Beautiful Game, of course…)

Michelle Wie won a golf tournament.

This is not such an amazing and unlikely statement as it was, once. Just since April, the TV sports tickers have been compelled to say so twice now.

This morning, Ms. Wie made a tour of the New York City-based media outlets. The Today Show, Fox and Friends, and four other destinations before she got to grab lunch, apparently. This is what happens when you do what Ms. Wie did, on Sunday.

Winning the US Women’s Open is a fairly big deal, no matter who wins it. It’s one of the “majors”, one of the tournaments whose appearance on your resume increases your name’s font size, everywhere you go in the golf world. The first time you win one of those … you’ve arrived.

Although it’s fair to say that Michelle Wie has arrived after having already arrived once, and kinda departed, and then knocked on the door and asked to come in again.

Ten years ago, she won an award that is annually given to the most promising up-and-coming pro golfer in the women’s game. She was in junior high school.

Previously, here, I have gone on a bit about people with exceptional or exceptionally-remarked-upon talents, and the people that surround them as they Burst Onto The Scene. I’m always worried about the child stars, the prodigies, the Young Sensations, because frankly, ladies and gentlemen, before you graduate from high school you don’t have nearly the life experience that you need in order to survive this brand of Fame and Attention.

Michelle Wie, before she set foot in high school, was referred to by at least one breathless sports journalist as the Tiger Woods of the women’s game.

No pressure.

She was good, all right. In 2003, at age 13, she became the youngest player ever to make the cut in an LPGA tournament. Not long after that, she won the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. Not long after that, someone in her circle of helpers convinced her that she ought to compete in a men’s tournament event, something the great Annika Sorenstam thought long and hard about before trying … and Ms. Sorenstam was established.

Wie went out and posted a 68 in the second round of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open, and all bets were off. Since then, she has competed in eleven other men’s events. Okay, well, maybe let’s talk about Tiger, then …

And then, maybe not predictably, but firmly … it all came crashing down.

Over the next seven years, Wie won but two LPGA tournaments; and between her Sony Open performance and last year, she was 0-for-31 in the “majors”. She went to Stanford University and didn’t play much golf while she was at it. As Ms. Sorenstam suggested in an interview last year, “I think she jumped in way too deep, and I think it had some tough consequences for her.” In 2012, Wie missed the cut in ten of the 23 LPGA events she entered. In the first half of 2013, she didn’t finish any higher than 45th place.

And it could be tough to watch.

The body language was not confident. Watching Wie after she would miss a relatively short putt, or park a tee shot into a bunker, or chip a ball off a fairway and clean over a green, could be an exercise in pity. Poor kid, she looks miserable.

So, Sunday morning, Wie teed off at the US Women’s Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina, carrying a three-stroke lead after three rounds. Her nearest competitor was Stacy Lewis. This is not insignificant.

Three strokes is a lead that is not a lock to hang onto over 18 holes. Bogey just three of them and we’re all square. Wie had been playing very well; but the final round of a tournament is a killer. Golf commentators have remarked that pro golfers are always very relaxed, very friendly to members of the gallery, very loose … until Sunday. Then they’re all business, because for most of them it is their business. It’s their livelihood. It’s a game they love, until stuff goes wrong, and then there is literally nowhere to hide, either from the galleries or their mortgages.

After a decade in golf, Michelle Wie is still only 24. (When I think of what I knew and what I was like and how I dealt with pressure at age 24 … and I wasn’t in the national spotlight when I was in the seventh grade … well, I watched that final round on Sunday with great interest.)

And bearing down on her, admittedly having teed off much earlier in the day and already sitting in the clubhouse with a round of 66, was Stacy Lewis. Only the number-one-ranked player in the world at that moment.

And … action.

Wie maintained that three-stroke lead through fifteen holes. She did so by onlying putt once or twice per green, never more than that … which she’d done consistently since teeing off on Thursday. She strode up to the 16th tee with body language that said, “I got this.”

She parked her tee shot into a fairway bunker.

Her second shot lodged in a scrubby bush at the edge of another bunker near the green. It took a while for tournament officials to find the ball and declare it unplayable.

After Wie accepted a penalty stroke, her fourth shot landed twenty-five feet from the hole. Her putt for bogey overshot the hole by a couple of yards. A six at the par-four 16th hole left her with a single-stroke lead over Lewis, who was on the course’s driving range, getting warmed up in case there needed to be a playoff.

At which point, I watched the body language carefully. I wondered which Michelle Wie I was going to see next – the 2012 disaster zone, or the golfer that won the LGPA Lotte Championship in April and looked entirely at home doing it (beyond the fact that it was held in her home state of Hawaii)?

In 2012, the final two holes might have ended up as bogeys, and a shaken Wie might have watched Stacy Lewis hoist the trophy. Or worse … a bogey and a par (or even worse, a par and then a bogey), and then the aforementioned playoff.

This Sunday?

Birdie, par. Two-stroke win. And a golfer who has ten more years of life, ten more years of experience, and one more major.

Here’s what I still would love to know, though:

Between the end of the 16th hole and the tee shot on 17 … what was Michelle Wie’s internal monologue like?

What was the difference between Sunday and, say, the aftermath of an especially tough tee shot at a tournament in Singapore, when Wie had chucked her club away and cussed in four-letter fashion in front of a gallery containing many small children?

Every summer I get to participate in the instruction of high school band student leaders, not just in the physical how-to-do it of conducting and marching, but in the techniques and psychology of teaching; and then, we have remarkable speakers come and talk to the kids about ephemeral concepts like leadership and motivation. We traffic in Starred Thoughts™ like “Believe in yourself, or IT IS OVER.” … “Don’t project your own failure.” “The only way to lose is to quit.” “A good leader is one that can adapt and overcome in the face of adversity.” “Don’t use ANYTHING as an excuse.” “If you don’t plant positive thoughts, negative thoughts will come.” “You will move in the direction of your attitude.” “Successful people learn from every situation.” “Lead with a heart of fire and a head of ice!”

In 2012, would Michelle Wie have been muttering any of those things to herself?

This past Sunday, was Michelle Wie thinking any of these things?

Did she even need to?

Maybe she was humming a silly little song?

Whatever was going on inside her head … it worked.

Whatever it was … I wouldn’t mind picking up a box of that stuff, if it could be packaged.

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June 24, 2014 - Posted by | Famous Persons, golf, sports, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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