SUGAR GROVE, Ill. (AP) — When it came time to get the fans rowdy with a couple of rounds of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Solheim Cup rookie Michelle Wie wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“I was like, ‘Just watch. I’ll get it started.’ And then we had a great time with it,” playing partner and Solheim Cup “veteran” Morgan Pressel said after Wednesday’s practice round.
Yes, this week should be quite the education for Wie – about her, too.
Heralded as golf’s biggest thing since Tiger Woods after winning the Women’s Amateur Public Links at 13, making her the youngest winner of a USGA championship for adults, the last six years have not always been easy for Wie.
Despite being in contention at several majors, she’s still looking for her first win – on the LPGA Tour and off. Her attempts to play with the big boys failed. Fellow players resented the attention she got early on, grumbling at what they saw as free passes.
Fans are mesmerized by her sweet swing and booming drives. But with her face often hidden behind sunglasses and her interview answers polished to perfection, they don’t have that Tiger-like connection to her.
“She’s an amazing golfer, but what people don’t realize is she’s still just a teenager, and we’re getting to know her as a person,” Cristie Kerr said. “She’s got quite the fashion edge. She makes her own clothing. You know, she designs clothing. She does a lot of interesting things.”
“She’s a talented artist,” Pressel chimed in.
“She’s a very talented artist,” Kerr agreed. “She’s very funny. She’s quirky. I think people are going to see the real her this week.”
Beth Daniel used one of her two captain’s picks on Wie, and it had nothing to do with star power.
The top 10 players in Solheim Cup points automatically made the U.S. team, and Wie was 13th after a tie for 11th at the British Open. But consider that she only started collecting points this year; despite playing a handful events on the LPGA Tour each year since she was 13, the 19-year-old player is only in her rookie season.
She’s been in the top 10 in five of the 13 tournaments she’s played, including finishing second at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, and is 24th in the world rankings. She has yet to miss a cut, and ranks sixth with 19 of her 51 rounds in the 60s.
“You always wonder if you should pick a rookie,” said Daniel, who played in seven Solheim Cups. “I always feel like picking a rookie in the United States is a little easier than picking a rookie overseas, because here she’s going to have the fans at her back the whole time. But I looked at the stats. I looked at her performances.
“I’ve said from day one of being captain that my picks were going to be the people who were playing the best coming into the event. And if I looked at 11 through 20, by far she was playing the best of any of them,” Daniel said. “So yeah. It was a bit of a no-brainer.”
And Wie’s length could come in quite handy when the Solheim Cup begins Friday. Rich Harvest Farms is the longest course in Solheim Cup history, playing at 6,670 yards, and the European team is filled with big hitters. Wie currently ranks fourth on the LPGA Tour in driving distance.
The Americans have won the last two Solheim Cups, and have yet to lose on home soil.
“It’ll help us if she keeps it in the fairway,” Daniel said. “It’s not only long, it’s an extremely tight golf course. And that’s what makes it so difficult. Most people that hit it long have a tendency to hit it a little crooked. So that’ll be a big factor here. But it’s also a golf course that you have to be able to hit the ball both ways, left to right, right to left, and she has all the shots to do that.
“Only time will tell how she reacts, but she’s been playing very well in the practice rounds. She seems to be loose and ready to go.”
Wie made no secret of how badly she wanted to be part of this team, admitting to “badgering” Daniel. When she handed in the questionnaire Daniel had all the players fill out – detailing things like food allergies, what kind of ball they play – she added a note, writing “thank you so much for picking me” in big letters.
So far, she’s fit in beautifully.
Well, everywhere except maybe those team pingpong matches.
“I didn’t even try,” Wie said. “Me and Morgan played – yeah, we just didn’t try. It’s OK, we’ll stick to golf.”