Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Book Excerpts That Don't Suck: "The Sure Thing"

Illustration for article titled Book Excerpts That Don't Suck: "The Sure Thing"

Today's excerpt is from Eric Adelson's book about prodigious lady golfer Michelle Wie, "The Sure Thing: The Making And Unmaking Of A Golf Phenom." Buy it here. And, of course, Mr. Adelson will field your inappropriate questions in the comments.


Suggested discussion topics:

• How important was her performance at the Solheim Cup for her career?
• Does Wie suffer from anxiety attacks?
• Is she as good as advertised?
• Will she ever find true love?
• Can she ride a unicycle?
Christina Kim's large breasts and bubbly personality.

Michelle advanced rapidly in everything she did. Walked at nine
months. Ran and chased tennis balls around B.J.'s office soon after.
Ate almost as much at 2 and 3 as adults. Tried out for her elementary
school baseball team when she was 6 and quickly became the squad's
best hitter. The minute she picked up a tennis racquet, Michelle
appeared ready to conquer that game, too, but she quit soon after she
started because she didn't like to run. (B.J. once threw a can of
tennis balls into a garbage can because he was so upset by his
daughter's unwillingness to hurry after volleys.)

But one sport grabbed Michelle and didn't let go. She was 4 the day
B.J. took her to Haha'Ione Park in suburban Honolulu and walked her to
a baseball field encircled by a low stone wall and a chain-link fence.
He handed her one of her grandmother's clubs that he'd shortened so a
four-year-old could swing it. She grabbed it with both hands, as if it
were an axe, settled without prompting into a plausible golf stance
with her pudgy legs shoulder-width apart, and stared at the little
white ball at her feet.

Michelle poured everything her little body had into that first swipe.
She felt the clubface meet its target, let the club head carry her
arms around her body, and looked up to see the ball high in the
Honolulu sky. B.J. watched as his daughter's drive soared, bounced,
and rolled to rest deep in the outfield.
B.J. looked down at his little girl.
She gazed up at her father.
Michelle wanted to do it again.

From the first, Michelle just flat-out loved crushing a golf ball.
Soon she was launching them into neighbors' yards until she was
instructed to take her drives elsewhere. She threw her entire body
into the game, sliding her coiled legs through the downswing as if she
were moving a couch. In no time, the heroes in the Wie household were
the golf pros with the best swings. Michelle had a poster of Tiger
Woods in her room, and B.J. carried a photo of him in mid-swing around
so he could refer to it any time his daughter needed help.
Michelle watched both the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour on television,
but she loved the big hitters on the men's side more than the finesse
players on the women's. As she sat in front of her parents' TV at age
six, nothing about her dreams seemed the least bit strange. After all,
her mother had once shot a 69 in Maui and won an amateur tournament
back in Seoul.

Why shouldn't she aim higher?

Neither mother nor father put any limits whatsoever on their
daughter's dreams and ambitions. They encouraged her every swing, her
desire to hit longer, longer, longer. And that's just what she did.
But Michelle's determination to measure her talent against others
sparked a backlash the moment she started playing on municipal links.
When she was 7, her parents walked her to the first tee at a local
course and the starter asked Michelle for her age. She gave it.
"Sorry," he said, shaking his head. "Too young." Michelle was stunned.
"What I really wanted to tell him," she said later, "was, ‘I can beat
The starter finally relented. He paired Michelle with a
single-handicapper; the older woman wasn't pleased. Michelle, full of
fire, airmailed her drives past her reluctant playing partner. She
birdied a 200-yard par 3. The woman left the course after nine holes.
By age 9, Michelle was beating her parents, who gave up their own
games to mentor her. With no course within walking distance of their
home, they drove east about 15 minutes along the Kalanianaole Highway,
which curls along seaside cliffs and then up and around a mountain
range, to the Olomana Golf Links, a public course in Waimanalo. There
they went to the top shelf of a bi-level driving range, where Michelle
pounded away until, one day, B.J went downstairs looking for the head

Casey Nakama was born in Honolulu in 1958. Athletic as a kid, he
played shooting guard in high school but soon realized he was too
short for basketball. He picked up golf in 1976, won an Oahu amateur
tournament three straight years, and turned pro in 1985.
Nakama went on to play on the Asian Tour, made the Hogan Tour back in
the States, but struggled and returned to Hawaii to teach. He started
at Olomana with adults, then a parent asked him to teach juniors in
1996. Tiger Woods turned pro the next year and suddenly dozens of kids
showed up at Nakama's door.

Two years later, he spotted a tall girl wailing away, spraying her
shots everywhere and not seeming to care. He saw the potential right
away-the 10-year-old Wie was more than 5' tall already-but there were
problems. "She could carry the ball 200 yards," Nakama said. "But the
only thing she had going for her was her size. Her swing plane was
flat and laid-off. Her short game was really bad. She didn't know what
she was doing."
Yet Michelle had inherited another important family trait: her
intelligence. She could recite the alphabet at one and started reading
at two, even though her parents spoke to her in Korean and sometimes
struggled to find the right word in English. She was accepted at the
top academy in Hawaii, the elite Punahou School, founded in 1841 by
missionaries and now the largest independent school on one campus in
the United States. Wie applied as a rising sixth grader, enrolled, and
earned mostly A's throughout her stay there.

But her greatest gift was her ability to learn visually-almost
photographically. She could burn through her homework during the
forty-minute drive to Olomana. She could receive a swing lesson and
incorporate what she learned almost immediately. Then, somehow, she
could lock in the motion and not stray from it.
Nakama went to work, telling Michelle to point the club toward the
target at the top of her backswing, hinge her wrists, and make sure
her top two knuckles pointed upward when she gripped the club.
Michelle would watch herself in the huge wall mirror outside his
office and practice until dark. Once she got home, she practiced some
more. "After a couple days," Nakama said, "she would come back and
say, ‘Casey! I think I got it!'"
And she had: gradually Michelle's spray became a sweet draw, and she
started chaining perfect shot after perfect shot.

In 2000, when Michelle was 9, she won the girls' division of the Oahu
Junior Championship. Newspapers love young achievers -Honolulu feels
more like an extended family than a big city-so few reporters dampened
the achievement by harping on the fact that Oahu had very few girl
golfers. All that mattered was that the local girl had won despite
plunking three shots in the water.
She never tired of practicing. "It didn't bother her to work on her
swing five or six days a week," Nakama said. "I remember one Halloween
night, my wife and I had just gotten a puppy. I asked Michelle, ‘Are
you going to go trick-or-treating?' She said no. Instead she went to
ask her dad to ask, ‘If I stay and practice, can I play with the
puppy?' It was borderline sad."
The Wie family tolerated no laziness. From the moment B.J. realized
his daughter had talent, there would be no letting up. Michelle had
the engine, ignited by her mother's love for the game, but B.J. did
the steering and stepped on the gas. His daughter reported to Olomana
after school every day to follow the same drill: practice at the
range, play nine holes, then chip. "Her dad was in control of
everything," Nakama said. "He was always pressing, pressing, pressing
for more. Never rude, but always pressing."
Nakama noticed early on that B.J. didn't know the game as much as he
let on. "It was kind of hilarious to see him on the greens," Nakama
says. "He didn't know what he was looking at. It was comical." B.J.
allegedly played to a two-handicap, yet Michelle chipped with her
hands straight out instead of flexed. When Nakama showed her the right
way, Michelle turned to her dad and said, "See, I told you I was doing
it wrong!"
"He doesn't know how to play golf," Nakama said to himself.
Yet B.J. kept pressing for improvement, for more work, for smarter
application of the lessons. His expectations were sky-high not only
for himself and for Michelle, but for everyone around him.
"Everything hinged on Mr. Wie," Nakama said later. "He was brutal."

Talk to Mr. Adelson below. Buy the book here.