Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie, two of the greatest former child prodigies of women’s golf this century, head into this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship with their careers and right hands rolling in opposite directions.
Thompson, 24 and ranked No. 2 in the world, credits a new claw grip — compliments of her brother Curtis’ nagging — for taking her right hand out of the putting stroke and helping her post a win and three top-two finishes after missing a cut four weeks ago.
“I think that’s what I needed most,” she said Tuesday at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Meanwhile, Wie, 29 and a free-falling 56th in the world, merely hopes for a functional right hand this week. She took two months off to rest multiple injuries to the hand and just started hitting balls again last week, but she said she was inspired to return after watching several of the Golden State Warriors push through injuries while losing in the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors in six games last week.
“Just inspired by their tenacity and willingness to win and doing whatever it takes to be out there,” said Wie, whose fiancée, Jonnie West, is Warriors director of basketball operations and son to Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West.
Wie, who had surgery on the hand in October and has played only four times with two missed cuts and a withdrawal this year, said she talked to the LPGA Tour about taking a medical leave for the rest of the year but then decided against it.
“It’s just my doctors are saying even if I do take the rest of the year off, it’s not something that will get better just with time,” Wie said.
So Wie has been working on yet another swing change that she and her advisers hope will be a permanent fix that will take pressure off a troublesome right hand that was first injured when Wie was rear-ended in a car accident in 2017.
As for the hand holding up on swings from poor lies in tournament play, Wie could only say she’s “hopeful.” After all, it was only weeks ago when she “couldn’t even lift a golf club.”
“I’m running on a schedule that’s just not really ideal,” Wie said. “But I’m just really, really grateful that I even have the opportunity to hit golf shots and give myself a try.”
It’s yet another daunting challenge for the controversial, injury-prone player whose future and star power seemed unlimited when she tied for ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship as a 13-year-old and took in more than $10 million in endorsements after turning pro a week before her 16th birthday.
Thirteen years later, she has won five LPGA Tour events and one major, the 2014 U.S. Open. She has $6.8 million in career earnings, including $15,377 this year.
“I’ve had a couple unfortunate falls, couple of accidents,” said Wie, who also missed four months in 2007 after saying she injured both wrists in a fall. “That’s life. Things happen. You stumble across things that don’t go your way.
“But I’m very proud of everything I’ve accomplished so far. I’ve accomplished two of my biggest dreams. I’ve graduated from Stanford and I won the U.S. Open. Those were two of my biggest dreams growing up. … There’s still so much more I want to accomplish, and that’s why I’m here, giving it my all.”
Thompson, who was 12 when she qualified for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open, has 14 wins, $9.6 million in career earnings and one major championship, the 2014 Kraft Nabisco. She has six top-10 finishes and $1.1 million in prize money this season.
“I don’t really know what I expected when I was 12 years old, what my career was going to look like,” Thompson said. “I knew at 12 this is what I wanted to do, be on the LPGA Tour and play against the best if not be one of the best. I knew I could do that as long as I put in the hard work.”
Online schooling and eight-hour-a-day practice sessions paid off. And now, at the ripe old age of 24?
“I’m going to continue to work hard,” she said, “And just enjoy the ride.”
Some rides seem smoother than others.