Fading star Michelle Wie will become a “wasted talent” if she can’t succeed this year, New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko has the all-round game to avoid the same pitfalls and become a future champion, while legend Karrie Webb is the woman to beat.
That’s the opinion of former Australian Open champion and ABC commentator Jane Crafter ahead of the Australian Women’s Golf Open, at Royal Canberra from February 14-17.
Crafter rates the field the equal of any she’s seen for the Australian Open, the $1.2 million tournament boasting nine of the world’s top 20 players.
But Crafter admitted she was also fascinated to see how Wie, now ranked 65 in the world, would travel in her first trip to Australia.
Wie turned professional before her 16th birthday to world-wide fanfare, signing endorsements worth a reported $10 million and drawing comparisons to Tiger Woods.
Having completed her studies at Stanford last year, there were renewed hopes that Wie’s career might be revived.
But the 23-year-old missed the cut in 10 of her 22 LPGA tournaments and Crafter says 2013 could be make-or-break.
“I’m a fan of hers, but I want to see some big improvement this year otherwise I think she could go down as a bit of a wasted talent,” Crafter said.
“She’s got huge potential, huge talent. Some of the shots she hits you just go ‘wow’, then some of the short game and short putts she misses you just go ‘wow’.
“You don’t understand how there can be such dichotomy because as a 14 or 15-year-old you just thought this girl is going to be unbelievable, but it hasn’t carried on.
“She’s gotten a bit mechanical, she doesn’t seem to play as naturally as she used to when she was a teenager.”
Ko, 15, appears the incarnation of Wie. Her parents are of South Korean descent too, she is the world’s number one amateur and, in 2012, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA tournament.
“I think she’s going to be better than Michelle,” Crafter said of the New Zealand wunderkind.
“I think Michelle Wie has immense physical talent, but I just think Lydia has a better head on her shoulders and a better all-round game. Her short game is really good, her putting is fearless.”
Asked to pick a winner from the star-studded Australian Open field, which includes world No.1 Yani Tseng, Crafter went for experience and had just one word - “Karrie”.
Webb won an eighth Australian Masters title last week and is shooting for a fifth Australian Open crown in Canberra.
The former world number one hasn’t won a major since 2006, but Crafter tipped it was not beyond the 38-year-old.
“She’s hitting it as well for this time of year as I’ve ever seen her. She’s a perfectionist, so when you hear her say how pleased she is with hitting the ball you’d better watch out.
“I think she has another major in her ... she wants to play in Rio [2016 Olympics] so there’s no ideas on retirement yet.
“There’s no pressure, she’s done it all, she’s just adding to the legend right now.”