Michelle Wie, Major Champion. Michelle Wie, United States Women’s Open Champion. For her legions of fans (including me), those are words we have longed to hear. In a week where 11-year old Lucy Li charmed the golf world, it was a former child prodigy, Michelle Wie, who fulfilled the promise and potential many saw in her as a 13-year old Women’s Amateur Public Links winner. From 2003 through 2006, ages 13 to 16 for Michelle, she dazzled with her precocious skill and power, finishing in the top 10 of Majors 7 times, 6 times in the top 5 and runner-up at the 2005 LPGA Championship. She played against men on the PGA tour, a move not universally beloved. In fact, I’d surmise that move resulted in a negative backlash. When she eventually joined the LPGA tour, there were wins, at the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational and 2010 CN Canadian Open. However, there were a lot of ups and downs as well. The young girl with 7 top tens in Majors through 2006 only earned 2 more from 2007 through 2013. Her results dipped dramatically, to the point that there were whispers that she had lost her love for the game. At 24 years old, were Michelle Wie’s best days behind her? Then came the 2014 season.
I should back up a little before I get to 2014. Michelle had really started to play better towards the end of 2013. Her putting especially was showing signs of improvement. Her self-created tabletop putting stance, which raised a few eyebrows to be kind, was beginning to show benefits. She hit the ground running in 2014. 3 of her first 6 events resulted in top 10s, including a runner-up at the year’s first Major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and didn’t finish lower that 16th in any of those starts. Then she put it all together in her home state of Hawaii, winning her 3rd LPGA title at the 2014 Lotte Championship presented by J Golf. Suddenly, the golf world was buzzing about Michelle again. She wouldn’t let the accolades distract her from her purpose, as she followed Lotte by scoring 4 more top 10s in her next 5 events. Then came the United States Women’s Open at Pinehurst #2.
With back to back 68s to open the Championship, Michelle vaulted to the top of the leaderboard. But it was her 3rd round that made me think she could win. It was actually her worst round of the USWO, a 2-over 72 (par is 70 for this event) where she fell apart a bit on the back 9. It was her calm demeanor when things were going sideways that made me think if she could just stay near the top of the leaderboard, she would play the kind of round she will need to win on Sunday. She managed to finish the third round tied for the lead with Amy Yang. The Michelle that was struggling the past few years could have, and probably would have, been shaken during the third round to the point of posting a huge number, maybe 76 or even higher. She kept it together to give herself a chance. Then came the final round.
Starting the day tied at 2-under with Amy Yang, Michelle stumbled out of the gate by lipping out a short birdie putt. Amy also bogeyed the first hole, going on to have 3 bogeys, 1 double bogey and 1 birdie through the first 7 holes. By the 8th hole, Yang wasn’t a factor. World #1 Stacy Lewis was. After 2 bogeys and 1 birdie through 4 holes, Lewis showed why she is the best women’s golfer in the world, with 5 birdies and zero bogeys from 6 through 13. Her putting, which had let her down in round 3, was sharp in round 4. Until she gave 2 shots back on 14 and 16 with bogeys. However, Michelle was having her ups and downs as well. She reached the par 5 10th in 2 shots. She would drop in the biggest putt of her career so far with an eagle to give her some breathing room at 3-under. She was cruising along with stingers off the tee and solid putting until the par 4 16th hole. She found the sand with her tee shot. Instead of laying up, she played aggressively. Unfortunately for her, she found a shrub in the front side bunker. It took some time just to find her ball. She ended up taking a shot penalty with an unplayable lie. After her drop, she played what counted as her 4th shot to the middle of the green. She ended up 2-putting for double bogey. It was actually not the easiest putt to save double bogey, but the tabletop technique paid dividends when she needed it to do so. In some ways, the double bogey putt was almost as important as the eagle putt on 10. She was still at 1-under, but the pressure was on. Stacy, at 2-over, needed a birdie-birdie finish on 17 and 18 to get to even and have a chance. They were sizable putts, not easy at all. Stacy made them look easy with bulls-eye accuracy. Suddenly, Michelle was on the 17th tee at 1-under and Stacy was keeping warm with practice shots on the range anticipating a possible playoff at even par. Wie would hit the green with her tee shot on the par 3 17th. She then hit her new biggest putt ever with a long birdie bomb that had Michelle fist pumping and the crowd cheering. With a 2 shot cushion on 18, she would par the hole for the finest moment in her golf career. At 24 years old, the same age Annika Sorenstam won her first Major, the child prodigy came of age.
Congratulations to all the players who shined on Pinehurst #2 this week. Congratulations to Brooke Henderson for finishing as low amateur. Congratulations to Juli Inkster for turning back the clock and showing her Hall of Fame skill and will. Congratulations to my favorite JLPGA player, Sakura Yokomine, for showing the great play you can find on the Japanese tour. Congratulations to Stephanie Meadow for nearly pulling a shocker in her first professional tournament. Congratulations to Stacy Lewis who continues to seemingly always be near the top of the leaderboard, showing the brilliant play that has carried her to #1 in the world. And the biggest congratulations of all to Michelle Wie. Her path has sometimes been rocky. The burden of expectation has been great. But now she’s Michelle Wie, Major Champion. She’s Michelle Wie, 2014 US Women’s Open champion. That’s sure sounds good to me.
ALL PICS CLICK TO ENLARGE
1 MICHELLE WIE (-2)
|T5||So Yeon Ryu||69||74||70||70||E||F||+3||283|
|T13||Yueer Cindy Feng||73||71||71||71||+1||F||+6||286|
|T13||Na Yeon Choi||71||70||71||74||+4||F||+6||286|
|T15||Hee Young Park||73||73||69||72||+2||F||+7||287|
|T35||Ha Na Jang||76||73||70||72||+2||F||+11||291|
|T38||Se Ri Pak||76||69||74||73||+3||F||+12||292|
|T38||Jee Young Lee||73||73||73||73||+3||F||+12||292|
|T43||Hee Kyung Bae||77||71||73||72||+2||F||+13||293|
|T57||Jodi Ewart Shadoff||76||71||78||73||+3||F||+18||298|
|T79||Dewi Claire Schreefel||72||79||MC||MC||–||–||–||151|
|T106||Yoo Lim Choi||76||78||MC||MC||–||–||–||154|
|T106||Sarah Jane Smith||76||78||MC||MC||–||–||–||154|
|T106||Sun Young Yoo||76||78||MC||MC||–||–||–||154|
|T131||Jaye Marie Green||77||80||MC||MC||–||–||–||157|