A child prodigy fulfilling her potential as one of the best golfers in the world. Overcoming self-imposed adversity that could have easily turned into another crushing defeat.
Michelle Wie won the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday. Chances are, unfortunately, you probably didn’t even realize it happened.
As the US Men’s National Team suffered an agonizing draw on a last-second goal by Portugal in the World Cup, Wie was celebrating her first major victory at the age of 24 – 11 years after she was introduced to the world as the next great golf phenomenon.
It wasn’t easy for the Honolulu native, who had last won at the LPGA Lotte Championship this past April. She was tied for the 54-hole lead with Amy Yang after surrendering a three-shot lead on Saturday. And she had been in this position before, fading down the stretch at this very tournament when she was 15 years old, and finishing with a tie for 23rd.
Then, on Sunday, after accruing another three-stroke lead, she managed a double-bogey on the Par 4 16th. The miscue cut her lead to one, and the world’s No. 1 player, Staci Lewis, loomed in second place.
Perhaps it would have broken a younger, less experienced player. It probably would have broken a less mature, less embattled Wie.
But not this day. Not this Wie.
Years of challenges, setbacks and missteps had led up to this. And she would not let this mistake get the best of her.
On her next hole, a Par-3 17th, she refocused, hit a tee shot 25 feet from the hole, and, using her patented new putting stroke, sunk a clutch putt for a birdie to all but seal her first major championship.
You could tell, after sinking her last putt on 18, the enormity of the moment for Wie. After 11 years, dramatic changes to her game, and a number of disappointments to her career, the pressure of it all seemed to lift off her shoulders when she raised her arms in victory.
The victory signals a start to the legitimacy of the unprecedented hype Wie received early in her career, and showed the golfing and sporting worlds alike that she was ready to assert herself as one of the best golfers in the world. It also highlighted the long, winding road she had to take to get there.
Interestingly enough, many a casual fan can look at that particular road, and ask why it took so long for Wie to get to this precipice. After all, she was touted as one of the best golfing prospects in the world at only 13 years old. Her father was comparing her career potential against the likes of the great Tiger Woods, and for good reason – she had a natural game that matched herself against the LPGA’s top players; and, despite her youth, her understanding of the game was comparable to a seasoned pro.
Perhaps that was the problem. A problem, ironically enough, that led to her ultimate success.
The immense expectations placed upon Wie early in her career could have easily stunted her growth as a player to the point where she flamed out completely. And, again, while she had her share of disappointments through her 11-year career, they never broke her permanently. She found the wherewithal to reinvent aspects of her game to make her stronger – break herself down and put herself back together again.
Along the way, she found her share of success – a total of 25 top-10 finishes from 2009 to 2013, and a couple of wins on the LPGA tour; finishing with over $350,000 in earnings six out of the last seven years; and a 6-5-1 record in the prestigious Sondheim Cup, including an impressive 3-0-1 record in 2009. For all the times she is remembered for her unfulfilled potential, she still has quite the resume.
And yet, even through all the hardship, Wie finds herself not even in her late-20s, equipped with a combination of talent and resolve that could compete with the game’s best for years to come. This championship performance all but proved it – Wie has officially taken her game to the next level.
Ultimately, while she may have won on a day most of the sporting world wasn’t paying attention, rest assured:
Michelle Wie has put the world of golf on notice.