ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – Michelle Wie’s first breakout performance as a professional came at the Solheim Cup at Rich Harvest Farms six years ago.
Just a rookie back then, Wie was a controversial American captain’s pick under intense scrutiny by a legion of critics who believed she was an overly hyped talent who had yet to earn the right to play.
Under pressure, Wie was a tour de force for captain Beth Daniel, delivering an MVP-like performance.
Wie was 3-0-1 helping the Americans easily defeat Europe.
Hall of Famer Juli Inkster was a part of that team, and she was so impressed with the shots Wie hit under pressure that she predicted another breakout performance wasn’t far away for Wie. She predicted Wie would win before the year was out.
Inkster was right.
Almost three months after the Solheim Cup, Wie won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, her first LPGA title.
As Wie’s captain at the Solheim Cup this week, Inkster sees more magic in her crystal ball.
“I still believe that Michelle hasn't even scratched her surface yet,” Inkster said. “Once she gets healthy and starts playing regularly, I think there's a lot more she's going to accomplish in golf.”
Wie reports that she is fit and ready for Friday’s start of the Solheim Cup at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club. That’s a big deal if she’s able to scrape off the rust her game’s accumulated being sidelined for so long this year with left hip, knee and ankle injuries.
“This past month, it really has been night and day,” Wie said. “I played last week with no pain, knock on wood. And this week, too.”
Wie says she isn’t all the way back, but she’s feeling strong again. She tied for 16th at the Evian Championship last weekend, showing no lingering effects from her injuries, Evian Golf Resort, built on the side of a mountain above Lake Geneva, offered a good physical test.
Inkster needs players who can go 36 holes a day in this Solheim format.
“Before Evian, I made sure I played 36 holes one day, just to see,” Wie said. “I talked to Juli. I'm like, ‘I'm good to go. You can play me as much or as little as you want.’ If Juli wants me to play five matches, I'm good to go.”
Inkster would love to see the Solheim Cup rekindle another spark under Wie, who emerged last year playing the best golf of her life.
Wie’s run last year from the Kraft Nabisco, where she lost to Lexi Thompson in a final-round duel in the year’s first major, through her Lotte Championship and U.S. Women’s Open victories, held a new kind of promise. Wie racked up eight top-10 finishes over nine starts in that run that included those two victories, a second and two third-place finishes.
Wie left Pinehurst last summer looking capable of becoming the best player in the women’s game. With her driver working, with her putting better than ever, she was a force.
All that momentum, however, was lost in health battles. There was a stress fracture in the index finger of her right hand after the U.S. Women’s Open, which plagued her most of the second half of last year. Then she opened this year with flu morphing into strep throat and then a sinus infection, derailing her start through the Asian swing. The summer was derailed yet again with bursitis in her left hip, a left knee injury and then a bone spur in her left foot.
Just six weeks ago, Wie wasn’t sure she would be ready for the Solheim Cup.
Though Wie was easily going to qualify for the American team, there was much uncertainty for Inkster over how much Wie could really help the team. That uncertainty grew to angst at the end of July when Wie withdrew from the Ricoh Women’s British Open after slipping and falling in the rain coming off the 13th tee in the second round. She re-injured her left ankle and wasn’t sure if she was even going to be ready to compete in Germany.
Wie said she was home in Jupiter, Fla., with her aching left foot propped up after a doctor’s visit when Inkster called wanting an update.
“She’s on a favorites list on my phone dial,” Inkster cracked.
Wie told Inkster she wasn’t sure she could play. It hurt Wie saying that.
“Playing for Juli just doesn’t come around again,” Wie said. “I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Three weeks after withdrawing from the Women’s British Open, Wie teed it up at the Canadian Women’s Open. She missed the cut, but she felt better. Three weeks after that, she passed the test at Evian.
“Every day, I've been really diligent about my rehab routine,” Wie said. “That has been my No. 1 priority, and I have a good routine going. I feel great as soon as I check off all of that stuff. I'm excited to be here. I'm just ecstatic to be here.”
Inkster’s ecstatic to hear that. Wie is looking like the veteran Inkster wants to send out with rookie Alison Lee this week.
Wie relishes her Solheim Cup experiences. She’s 6-5-1 overall in the matches. She says her success in the event helped her win the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I definitely used moments from Solheim to help me get through it,” Wie said. “You definitely learn a lot playing through pressure like that. And also there’s confidence, as well. Some of the shots I've pulled off at Solheim, it's definitely in my memory bank.”
Wie’s looking to build the bank with more good memories this week.