By OSKAR GARCIA
KAPOLEI, Hawaii — Michelle Wie is hoping a Hawaii stop on the LPGA Tour will inject a little aloha into her game.
She’s 91st in the world ranking after breaking 70 only once in 18 rounds so far this season. She’s coming off a season-best tie for 41st two weeks ago in the Kraft Nabisco Championship — after starting the tournament with an apology from Annika Sorenstam for being quoted as saying the former child prodigy hasn’t shown the talent that initially made her a star.
And ahead of a press conference to open the LPGA Lotte Championship, organizers planned to bring five players — including the world’s top three — to introduce the tournament to reporters. But not Wie.
Still, the 23-year-old Stanford graduate says it’s nice to be home, where she’s more relaxed.
“There’s nothing like coming back home,” Wie told The Associated Press on Tuesday after finishing a pro-am round with four amateurs at 7 under in a scramble format.
Wie grew up in Honolulu, just a few miles east of the Ko Olina Golf Club, where the LPGA Lotte Championship is in its second year.
“As soon as you get off the plane, that smell — everything,” she said. “It’s great to play in front of a home crowd and hopefully a lot of people will come out tomorrow.”
A friendly, familiar crowd couldn’t hurt Wie, who won the last of her two LPGA Tour titles in 2010 and has gotten a lot of attention lately for her new putting style — an unorthodox stance where she bends at the waist, her back straight and nearly parallel to the ground with her eyes peering straight over the ball.
“Yeah, I enjoy being here and I’m very happy,” Wie said when asked if being home could help turn things around. “I’m just going to go out and have fun tomorrow.”
Wie had an up-and-down practice round Tuesday, taking extra time between shots to work on her technique and chat with her parents, who walked the course and occasionally chimed in with tips.
After her group finished each hole, Wie’s caddie frequently tossed out a ball for Wie to chip, putt, or hit from a bunker.
On the 365-yard, par-4 second, Wie asked her group if she could hit a second drive after her real tee shot landed in the left side rough, very close to a bunker.
Two of the next three holes, she groaned after hitting her drives.
“Ugh, Michelle,” she said after sending a shot off to the right on the 528-yard, par-5 fifth, before lightly smacking her tee into the face of her driver as she walked down the course.
Still, in the best ball format, Wie’s group played her shots most often. She hit within 8 feet on the 154-yard, par-3 fourth and was on point with most of her approaches and putts.
“I had fun out there today and it felt good,” she said.
The LPGA Lotte Championship comes as Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis and Yani Tseng battle for the top spot in the world rankings. Park, the Kraft Nabisco winner, took over the top spot Monday, ending Lewis’ four-week run at No. 1.
New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko is coming off a tie for 25th in the Kraft Nabisco. She won the Canadian Open in August to become the youngest LPGA Tour winner at 15 years, 4 months, 2 days. The South Korea-born Ko has two other pro victories, the New South Wales Open last year and New Zealand Women’s Open this year, and won the U.S. Women’s Amateur last season. She’s ranked 22nd in the world.
Ai Miyazato won the tournament last year. This year’s event has a top prize of $225,000 and a total purse of $1.7 million.