HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. (AP) — Michelle Wie never took her driver out of the bag, trying to make it through the opening round of the LPGA Championship with an easy swing and smart decisions, both of which have been in short supply lately.
“It’s a tough strategy for her,” swing coach David Leadbetter said as he followed her around Thursday. “It’s like owning a Ferrari and not being allowed to get out of second gear.”
The good news for Wie is that the car didn’t go off the road.
After a tumultuous week of criticism that put Wie under more pressure than she has faced in any round, the 17-year-old from Hawaii recovered from a sloppy start with three birdies in a four-hole stretch and a couple of key pars late in her round of 1-over 73, leaving her six shots behind the leaders but in decent shape to stay all four days at Bulle Rock.
“I built a lot of confidence over this round,” said Wie, whose handlers limited her to five questions. “It’s a work in progress, and hopefully it’s going to get better and better.”
Former U.S. Women’s Open champion Birdie Kim came to life with a 5-under 67, leaving her atop the leaderboard at Bulle Rock with rookie Angela Park and Kim Saiki-Maloney.
Morgan Pressel got off to a good start in her bid for the second leg of the Grand Slam with a 68, joining seven-time major champion Karrie Webb and Laura Davies, who could qualify for the Hall of Fame with a victory in this major.
But the focus was on Wie and cloud of criticism around her the last week.
She withdrew after 16 holes last week at the Ginn Tribute, citing a wrist injury, showed up at Bulle Rock two days later to hit balls, then got sassy with Annika Sorenstam and LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens when they questioned her conduct.
“I don’t think I need to apologize for anything,” Wie said earlier this week.
There was no need to apologize for her score.
Some thought she might withdraw again when she summoned a rules official on her sixth hole, the par-5 15th, to ask permission for her therapist to work on her wrist. Wie had just hit three shots out of deep rough in her previous four full swings, and said it hurt. She kept playing, though, and wound up in a tie for 47th.
“I played smartly,” Wie said.
Se Ri Pak also shot 73, and her smile was never brighter.
The defending champion officially logged her 10th tournament of the year, marking her 10th season on the LPGA Tour, and that was all she needed to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. At 29, Pak will be the youngest member when she’s inducted in November.
Several players from South Korea lined the back of the interview room, a fitting tribute to their pioneer. The McDonald’s LPGA Championship was her first LPGA victory in 1998, and she went on to 23 victories and five majors.
“I don’t think I can ask for anything more at this moment,” Pak said. “I’m a very lucky person.”
Sorenstam, in her second tournament since neck and back problems forced her out of competition for two months, opened with a 70. Lorena Ochoa was in the group at 71.
Sorenstam fueled the Wie criticism earlier this week by saying the teenager showed a lack of class and respect by pulling out of the Ginn – where Sorenstam was the tournament host – and coming to the next tournament to hit balls.
There also was speculation Wie withdrew to avoid shooting 88, which would ban her from the LPGA Tour the rest of the year because of a policy for non-tour members.
Bivens said the LPGA did not recommend to the Wie camp that she withdraw to avoid “Rule 88,” although she confirmed she spoke to Wie’s father and agent about conduct she would not disclose.
And she backed Sorenstam’s criticism.
“I think that leaving the tournament and coming to practice when one had pulled out with a wrist injury was not very respectful, and that’s what Annika and what some of the other members are responding to,” Bivens said.
“Every person who tees it up on the LPGA signs a registration form that says they are bound by the rules and regulations of the LPGA. It’s a privilege, and it is not a right.”
Wie teed off about 30 minutes later, and while it was the first time she failed to break par at Bulle Rock, there were few complaints.
“It was great today,” she said. “It’s definitely not where I want to be. I hit some great shots out there today.”
Even without the driver, she only hit five fairways and 11 greens in regulation.
She was 2 over through five holes when it got ugly.
Her 3-wood missed the fairway some 40 yards to the right, in wispy grass up to her knees. Wie slashed out to the rough framing the right side of the fairway, then hacked that one over a small ravine to the fairway, eventually making double bogey to go 4 over.
That’s when she summoned Leanne Quinn, her trainer and therapist, to massage her wrist. Quinn wound up working on her a half-dozen times, later in the 5 1/2-hour round massaging the right wrist.
Leadbetter said the plan was to not hit driver because longer clubs put more stress on her wrist. He still noticed the mechanics way off in her swing, and was pleased with how she salvaged a 73.
“She’s hitting shots I’ve never seen her hit,” Leadbetter said.
But she finally made a few putts, and they were key.
It started with a fairway bunker shot to 8 feet for birdie, and birdie putts of about 12 feet on the 18th and first holes. Equally key were the par saves, from 10 feet on the sixth and 6 feet on the seventh. She got her last birdie on the par-5 eighth, driving into a bunker, laying up and spinning a wedge back to 6 inches. She walked up to the green with a smile, a rarity Thursday until the round was over.