SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. - Many people have heard the name Gary Gilchrist in relation to teen phenom Michelle Wie. As part of David Leadbetter's IMG golf program, Gilchrist was the one who worked closest with Wie, traveling with her to tournaments and getting her swing in top form. Leadbetter and Gilchrist parted ways in 2004, with Wie opting to stay with Leadbetter. Gilchrist moved on to the International Junior Golf Academy, where until recently he worked as the Director of Golf.
Six months ago, he began working with Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who shot a first round 76 in the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles here Thursday and is at 5-over-par. When Gilchrist and Pettersen first met, she was in her fifth year on the LGPA Tour and had never placed higher than third. She was looking for a change.
In April, Pettersen nearly won the Kraft Nabisco Championship but had to settle for a tie for second after dropping four strokes in the last four holes. In May, she notched her first victory, defeating Jee Young Lee in a three-hold sudden-death playoff at the Michelob ULTRA Open. But the biggest breakthrough came earlier this month, when she went 14-under to finally win her first major, the McDonald's LPGA Championship.
At the end of the 2006 LPGA Tour season, Pettersen was 46th on the LPGA Tour's money list and remained winless. Now she's second on the money list with two victories to her name, including a major. Any way you look at it, she's having a good year.
Gilchrist took a few minutes to talk with WorldGolf.com about Pettersen's progress, their first major win, and his relationship with former student Michelle Wie.
WorldGolf.com: How's it going for you and Suzann?
It's going great, just preparing for [the U.S. Women's Open], just getting used to the golf course. The course appears to be very reasonable. It just depends how fast they get the greens, and that will be the difficulty. Suzann's playing her first U.S. Open as a major winner, so that's a test, mentally.
WorldGolf.com: How long have you been working with her now?
WorldGolf.com: What was it like winning that major?
Well for me it was unbelievable. I've been teaching for about fifteen years, and this is my dream, to train young kids into believing they can win a major, and to have a student do it was really fulfilling for me.
WorldGolf.com: How did you end up working with Pettersen?
Her agent called me up. I've spoken with her mother on several occasions, as at tournaments you often meet parents. They thought it'd be a good idea to make a change. And straight away we started working on her swing, on her physical fitness. Mentally she has a great support system. I believe that the mental side is the most important thing, to learn how to prepare mentally for a round, before a round, after a round, and during a round. I think that helped a lot at the McDonald's LPGA Championship. That third round was a tough day, but we decided to figure out what we learned from it and prepare for it.
WorldGolf.com: What does she have to do to win this tournament?
Number one, she has to believe she can. I think she does. And number two, she has to stay very patient. When you're patient and you respect the course, good things will happen. And you need to have a little bit of luck to win a US Open. You're going to hit it in the rough and if you get a couple of lies that are good, you can still make birdie or par.
WorldGolf.com: Do you think par will win this tournament?
No, right now, if the greens stay soft, I think close to eight- or six-under will win. I think that the rough isn't severe enough to cause any problems.
WorldGolf.com: Obviously you worked with Michelle Wie for a couple of years. Has it been strange seeing her around?
No, I've seen her lots of times since she started working with David (Leadbetter). I always want the best for my students, I've always believed in her dream (to play with the men) no matter what everybody else is saying. Right now I think she's just going through a tough time, she's not sure where the ball is going and that makes it difficult. But you know she has her destiny and I really truly hope she fulfills it.
WorldGolf.com: Do you think Michelle should come back to you and get her game back?
Well that all depends. My philosophy is a little different, I'm more of a coach. But there again, that's going to have to be their decision. The good thing is that when she left me, she was playing well. And it all depends on respect, if they respect who I am as a golf teacher. I think I'm getting more and more respect because of Suzann and how well she's playing. I'm not big on technique, I'm more into getting the player to prepare well enough to win, and building confidence within themselves.
WorldGolf.com: Anything you want to share about Pettersen's game?
She's a powerful girl, she's going to hit it long and she's going to try and take advantage of that. If she hits her short irons close, she can win her second major.
WorldGolf.com: Are you working with anyone else out here?
Yes, Song Hee Kim, Maria Jose Uribe from Colombia, and In-Kyung Kim, who spent a year at our academy. The business I've been in with the IJGA has been good to me, and I've really enjoyed watching these girls play. And you can see, the new generation's arrived—this is 90% "the youth of today" out here.
June 29, 2007
Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.
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