Mike Nadel: Worldly Wie needed visit to heartland

Mike Nadel

Michelle Wie is a native Hawaiian and a Madison Avenue darling. Yet what she really might have needed to find her golf game and rekindle her spirit was a detour to America's heartland.

Had Wie's career followed the expected script, there's little chance she would be spending an entire week sweating through a mid-level LPGA tournament in Springfield.

By now, she expected to be the best women's golfer in the world, the Tiger Woods of her gender. She expected to be playing in LPGA majors and choosing other events that fit her schedule (and her sponsors' wishes). And in her spare time, she expected to be making cuts on the PGA Tour.

None of that happened, however. So she's here at the LPGA State Farm Classic. And maybe, just maybe, this week in the Land of Lincoln will have played a huge role in shaping her golf destiny.

Funny how life works, huh?

As good as Wie was in the tournament's opening round, when she shot a 5-under-par 67, she was even better Friday. She began her day by pitching in from 85 yards for an eagle and proceeded to card a bogey-free 65.

The lowest-scoring consecutive rounds of the 18-year-old's career put her one stroke behind leader Christina Kim going into the weekend.

Given the way things have gone for Wie the last couple of years - missed cuts, injuries, public debates about what's best for her and other miscellaneous misery - many wondered if she even would qualify to play on the weekend.

Now look at the kid: Playing on a sponsor's exemption, she has a realistic chance for her first-ever victory in a professional event and all the trappings that go with it, including LPGA Tour membership without having to attend "Q" school.

"Right now, all I'm thinking about is: 'I'm still a shot behind and how am I gonna shoot a lower score?'" she said. "Hopefully, everything will work out."

Nice plan, Michelle. As anybody who ever has played golf knows, the surest ticket to doomsville is thinking you have something - anything - figured out. Never look past one shot to the next.

If Wie's ego needed boosting, and many would argue it did, she came to the right place. In LPGA history, the 36-hole cut has been 3-under-par only five times; on three of those occasions (including this year), it's happened here.

In other words, birdies really fly in Springfield.

Eagles, too. Wie had one in each of the first two rounds, both on pitch shots from the fairway.

"It helps to have a good bounce here and there," she said. "I felt like my game was pretty solid. If the breaks keep coming my way, it's a bonus."

It also could be a sign that the golf gods finally are smiling down on Wie after hovering elsewhere (mainly in Tigertown) the last two years.

Not that Michelle needed many lucky bounces so far in this tournament. As impressive as her length off the tee is - she exclaimed "Oh no!" when one of her drives only went 270 yards - it was her ability to rebound from rare mistakes that really wowed the gallery.

On her next-to-last hole, her drive settled down in the rough under a tree. She followed with a superb, low-flying, under-the-branches, 145-yard approach onto the green before two-putting for par.

Ho-hum. We see those kinds of shots every week ... on the PGA Tour.

Wie certainly seemed to be having fun Friday. She chatted easily with caddie Tim Vickers and the other golfers in her group, Allison Hanna-Williams and A.J. Eathorne. She joked with folks in the gallery. And the tall, lean teen made this admission when asked if she had played basketball in high school: "Yeah, but I could barely touch the net."

It would be easy to speculate that her game had suffered because the fun had been missing. But how easy is it to have fun when the golf ball won't cooperate by going where it's aimed? It's a chicken-and-egg thing.

Here in Central Illinois, good play and good times have arrived simultaneously for a kid who hasn't had enough of either lately.

Soon enough, we'll find out if a week in Springfield was part of golf's grand plan for Michelle Wie.

Mike Nadel ( is a GateHouse News Service sports columnist. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at