Not far from where Michelle Wie earned a degree at Stanford University, but a couple of generations removed, the Grateful Dead crooned to tie-dyed San Francisco: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Wie may not know the song, but she gets the sentiment.
Wie popped onto the national scene at age 12 when she played her first LPGA tournament in 2002. Two years later, she captured hearts when she missed the cut in a PGA Tour event by one stroke. Labeled by Ernie Els “The Big Wiesy,” her potential seemed like a bountiful room with no ceiling.
But what followed has been a roller-coaster ride through the heights and valleys of not just golf but also human emotion. Her long, strange trip has visited injury, illness and missed cuts as well as the winner’s circle and wild popularity. And now, shockingly, the one-time teen sensation will be 30 when the season ends.
Still, the promise of Wie’s potential looms large over the women’s game. For many there is the hope and for some there is the expectation that she will yet produce a single season that will mirror her 10-year LPGA career – five wins, including a major championship.
If only she can remain healthy. And that’s a big “if.”
Last week’s Honda LPGA Thailand was just her second event since Aug. 2 and followed surgery on her right hand in October. That operation is the latest addition to a medical chart that includes appendicitis, bursitis, a strained Achilles tendon, a sprained left wrist and a litany of food allergies. At times it appears her 6-foot-1 body is held together by physio-tape.
But Wie’s T-23 finish in Thailand – she faded to 74 on Sunday after 68, 72 and 68 – was an encouraging return in which she likely ran out of gas because she is still trying to get back her game legs. Now she heads to the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, where she picked up her most recent victory last year.
Her skills remain enormous, her competitive fire still burns intensely and even in her injuries she finds a silver lining.
“I think I will be pretty close game-wise,” she told me in an e-mail interview about the state of her game. “But I will definitely be 100 percent happy to be back there healthy and able to defend my title.”
No one is more aware of the winding road Wie has traveled than Michelle herself. When the first Rolex Rankings were released in February 2006, she was No. 3 and finished the year No. 11. To chart her career by the Rolex Rankings makes Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride look like a stroll in the park.
By the end of 2008, Wie had fallen to No. 238. She ended 2014 – a year in which she won twice, including the U.S. Women’s Open – at No. 6. By the end of 2016 she was back down to No. 173. Now she comes into the HSBC at No. 32 and would likely be higher had not she missed time because of her latest injury.
Along that rollicking ride is her last victory a year ago, her one major five years ago, joining the LPGA and getting her first pro win 10 years ago, and barely missing that cut on the PGA Tour 15 years ago.
But Wie does not look back. Her skills remain enormous, her competitive fire still burns intensely and even in her injuries she finds a silver lining. In Michelle’s world, there is no water under the bridge, just the bridge and she remains excited to see what’s on the other side.
“It is crazy to think I will be 30 this year, but I am kind of looking forward to it,” she says. “Although I’ve been out there for a while, it doesn’t feel like that for me. Being a professional golfer has been a huge part of my life, but I’ve also fit in a lot of other important life events, like high school and college. I think I have really benefited from having a good balance in my life.”
And she says all those injuries have helped her stay fresh. “I have had some (time off) through injuries so it just doesn’t feel that long to me,” she says of nearly two decades in the public spotlight.
“I still feel unbelievably excited that a new season is about to start and I’ll be back out on tour doing what I love,” Wie says. “So Ron, I guess I am still feeling pretty young and sprightly despite my advancing years!”
That sense of whimsy is another thing that has kept Wie energized. She likes to laugh; she likes to live; and she loves to play golf.
Last year, when she won the HSBC, it seemed as if a magical season loomed. Then injury intervened once again. Perhaps this year’s HSBC Women’s World Championship will kick-start the year Wie turns 30 and truly make it a memorable stop on a long, strange trip.
Michelle Wie waves to the gallery during last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek. Photo: Darren Carroll, Copyright USGA
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?