If i've learned anything caddying for my uncle Gary Player, it's that to win, you need the heart of a lion. I've carried his bag for the past five years, but in 2004 I took a side job: I caddied for Michelle Wie in three tournaments. I was blown away by Wie's raw talent, but I'm not convinced that she'll ever become a dominant, Tiger Woods--like force.
Before me, Wie's father, B.J., caddied for her. He's an intense guy, and he and Michelle sometimes clashed. Gary Gilchrist, Michelle's coach at the time, thought I would be a good match for her. Gary and I had the same philosophy: Michelle is a thoroughbred, so let her run. My job, as I saw it, was to keep her loose.
At the PGA Tour's Sony Open we communicated well, conferring on almost every shot. We talked strategy, and I read some greens. Her performance was amazing: She shot 72--68 and missed the cut by a stroke.
Two months later, at the LPGA Safeway International in Arizona, Michelle played remarkably well in tough conditions, shooting 72-67-70 in the first three rounds. But at her third-round press conference she complained about "getting a lot of bad lines." I was surprised, since I felt we had worked well together and that, if anything, she was hitting her putts too hard. She shot 77 on the last day but still made the top 20.
The next week, at the Kraft Nabisco, B.J. reasserted himself. He told me to map the greens with a gravity fall-line meter, an electronic device. That's not the way I read greens, and I told B.J. I wouldn't do it.
At Tuesday's practice round he critiqued every swing, every putt and every decision we made. Finally, I handed him the bag and said, "You want to caddie for her? You caddie for her." Over the next five days Michelle hardly spoke to me. During play she made a few decisions--such as trying risky recovery shots--that I wanted to talk her out of, but she had no interest in my opinion.
Still, when she got to the 18th tee on Sunday, she was just three strokes behind the leader, Grace Park, and a stroke behind Karrie Webb and Aree Song. The par-5 was playing at 485 yards and the wind was trailing, so it was actually a par-4 for someone with Michelle's length.
I pulled out the driver and said, "C'mon, Michelle, knock the driver out there, hit a nine-iron to the green, make an eagle and put pressure on the girls behind you." She looked beyond me and said, "My dad told me to hit five-wood here," then slid the driver back in the bag.
Five shots later she had finished at seven under. By contrast the 5'4" Song hit the green in two and nailed her 30-foot putt for eagle, forcing Park to make a six-footer for birdie to win. Wie later said the tournament was a success because she had nearly hit her target score of eight under and had achieved her pretournament goal: a top five finish.
A year later I can't agree with that assessment. The only regret I have from my time with Michelle is that five-wood on 18. How can you lay up when you have a chance to win? That's not what a lion--or a Tiger--would do.