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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 28, 2008

GOLF REPORT
Wie still struggling to get back in swing

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By Bill Kwon

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The dual role of part-time golfer and part-time student probably hasn't helped Hawai'i's Michelle Wie regain her once pure golf swing.

RONEN ZILBERMAN | Associated Press

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They came, we saw, they got drug-tested.

So ended two weeks of the LPGA in Hawai'i with Annika Sorenstam winning the SBS Open at Turtle Bay and Paula Creamer birdieing four of the last five holes to nudge Jeong Jang at the Fields Open in Hawai'i at the Ko Olina Resort.

The ladies put on quite a show and local fans turned out in wonderful numbers at Ko Olina, not only to watch Michelle Wie. The last two groups featuring Sorenstam and Creamer drew large galleries even before Wie had a final-round meltdown.

Clearly, Wie hasn't recovered from her disastrous 2007, a year which she said she erased from her memory bank. "I'm not going to think about last year," Wie said mantra-like. Mantra No. 2: "My goal is to stay in the present."

Well, presently, the wonderful "Big Wiesy" swing of old that we all marveled at is gone for whatever reason. Off the tee, it's snap-hook left, or to compensate for it, high fly balls to the right. Very few drives up the middle. Even her once unerring short irons are yanking left. Two of them led to a double- and triple-bogey during a painful, close-your-eyes-time stretch of three holes in Saturday's final round.

Duke Ellington wrote, "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." He meant it musically. But it's the same in golf, too. Come to think of it, the two have a lot in common tempo, rhythm, timing.

Wie didn't quite have that swing even when she shot an opening-round 69, which easily could have been a 75 if it weren't for a lucky bounce or two. After last year, nobody knew what to expect in her opening round. And it was reflected in a quick pool, I mean poll, of 12 members of the media who guessed scores ranging from a 70 to an 82.

True, it was her first tournament back. But the disappointing showing tied for last among the 74 players who survived the cut came at a golf course she's familiar with, one at which she nearly won her first LPGA event two years ago.

Staying in the present means forgetting what happened last week or even last year. But being a part-time golfer and part-time student at Stanford clearly isn't helping Wie to get better. You can practice all you want but there's nothing like playing competitively in a tournament to improve your game.

That's the dilemma facing Team Wie this year. Michelle's game isn't at a point where sponsors are lining up to give her exemptions as they did in 2006 when she earned $718,343 in only eight LPGA appearances.

She's not eligible to play in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first women's major of the year, an event in which she posted three top-10 finishes. She'll have to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open, an event which she has played in every year since 2003. Unlike previous years, Wie will have a tough time filling her dance card this year.

Wie has fallen on such hard times that she wasn't eligible for the who's who 78-player field for the inaugural HSBC Women's Champions this week in Singapore. She'll be missing out on a chance to rub shoulders with Sorenstam, Creamer, Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb and Mi Hyun Kim, the latter three making their season debuts.

Like that other No. 1 player in the world, Ochoa skipped opening the golf season in Hawai'i. But Ochoa said she watched Sorenstam's victory at Turtle Bay. "I was on the beach while Annika was winning at the beach, too," Ochoa said.

Having an LPGA stop in Singapore should help a tenuous Hawai'i situation next year with title sponsor Fields, a sport marketing company in Japan, still thinking about extending a three-year contract that ended with this year's event. The Seoul Broadcasting System just ended the fourth year of a five-year pact with the Turtle Bay Resort, so SBS Open is a definite go for at least 2009. Hawai'i is a good geographical stepping stone for the Singapore event, but whether it involves one or two LPGA events remains to be seen.

Finally, this is the Year of the Cup in golf. And we don't mean the Ryder or Solheim cups.

The LPGA quietly conducted its first drug-testing of the year in the first round of the Fields Open last week and, because of confidentiality and legal reasons, did not release the names of the dozen or so golfers who were randomly selected.

Apparently, it was a 3- to 5-hour wait for the final players to be tested, according to one golfer who asked to be anonymous. Those tested were told they'd be fined if they talked to the media even if just saying they took the urine test.

Makes you wonder if that's why Kelli Kuehne, one of the first-day leaders, didn't show up for a scheduled press conference after her round.

LPGA officials never gave a reason for Kuehne's no-show. But, heck, the LPGA doesn't even give a reason why a golfer withdraws, such as Joo Mi Kim, who pulled out after four holes in the first round after skipping the SBS Open, which she won in 2006.

The penalty for failing the drug test is a one-year suspension, if it's a first offense.

Cristie Kerr isn't worried: "Unless they're testing for wine," she said last year, "I think I'm OK."

Bill Kwon can be reached at bkwon@aloha.net.