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Len Ziehm On Golf

Michelle Wie is having fun on the course again

Michelle Wie finished her first round at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship with a big smile on her face – and with good reason. She shot a 3-under-par 68, another indication that her game is improving.

Wie hasn’t won since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst and by her own admission her play in 2016 was “awful.’’ It’s not bad now, though. Wie has five top-five finishes this season including four in her last five starts.

She believes the good play is a reflection of an improved attitude.

“I was sick of playing bad golf, honestly,’’ she said. “I was sick of being down and started this year with a really good sense of determination and motivation. I just want to be happy and have fun out there. I made a pact with myself that I’m going to have fun.’’

She’s doing it in an unusual manner. She has no set putting grip, instead grabbing the club in whatever seems comfortable at the time. She couldn’t say how many different grips she uses in each round but Gary Koch, the PGA Tour veteran-turned-broadcaster, is intrigued.

“There is no rhyme or reason to it. It is feel,’’ he said. “For the longest time we’ve said that Michelle is not playing by feel, that she is too mechanical. I like this change.’’

SUPPORT FOR LEXI: Lexi Thompson has taken a break from media interviews the past few days after learning that her mother has uterine cancer. Jaye Marie Green, one of Thompson’s best friends among the tour players, sympathizes with Thompson.

“It must be tough,’’ said Green. “Her and her mom are so close. They talk every day. They are best friends. Her mom would be the first person she would call about anything.’’

Green, though, won’t rule out Thompson winning the tournament. Thompson shot 70 in the opening round, barely getting to the clubhouse before play was suspended because of dangerous weather in the area at 7:01 p.m.

“She is definitely the toughest, most strong-willed person I know,’’ said Green. “If there’s someone who can win a major with what she’s going through, I’d put my money on her.’’

FAST STARTER: If there was a surprise in the first round it would be Brittany Altomare, a 26-year old former University of Virginia golfer whose best finish on the LPGA Tour was a tie for 11th in last year’s Volvik Championship.

Altomare started her round in the fourth group off the No. 10 tee and shot 67. The putts were just falling, she said.

“This golf course is unbelievable,’’ she said. “It’s in incredible shape. The greens are just perfect. You just hit the ball where you want it, and it just goes where you’re aiming. You can’t hit a bad putt.’’

WOMANLY BOOST: Three Olympians – skier Lindsay Vonn, figure skater Michelle Kwan and hockey player Angela Ruggiero – participated in the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summer, which was held at Olympia Fields in conjunction with the tournament.

“Women in golf definitely had a hard time being at the same level as men,’’ said Vonn, former girlfriend of Tiger Woods. “What KPMG is doing for women in golf is incredible, and it needs to be done.’’

KPMG announced this week that it will boost the tournament purse from $3.5 million to $3.65 million next year at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer. The company also agreed to extend its sponsorship agreement for the tournament through 2023.

HERE AND THERE

Olympia Fields’ North Course is now one of 22 venues that have hosted both men’s and women’s major championships. Kemper Lakes, which hosted the 1989 men’s PGA Championship, will join that select group next year.

NBC and The Golf Channel combined will provide 29 hours of coverage of this week’s tournament. It’ll reach 167 countries and 600 million households.

Olympia’s par-71 North Course was set up at 6,577 yards for Round 1 and the weather was unusual. The morning starters endured wind gusts of 35 miles per hour so they had more difficult playing conditions than the afternoon starters, who played their rounds in only a light breeze.