PINEHURST, N.C. – Michelle Wie stepping up to win Sunday was Hollywood scripting for this historic staging of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.
The USGA billed this grand experiment as a celebration of women’s golf and the unprecedented chance to compare the men and women playing the same venue for the first time in back-to-back weeks.
Wie, for better or worse, made her name and mark boldly daring to believe she could compete against the men with a dream of someday playing in the Masters.
Whether you loved or loathed her ambition you can’t deny the irony in her playing such a giant role with the men and women sharing of one of golf’s largest stages at Pinehurst No. 2.
Wie laughed Sunday night when asked if she would have liked to have played in both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open these past two weeks.
“Oh, my God, that would be horrible, like two U.S. Opens in a row,” Wie said. “Oh, boy, I don't think I could do it.”
Devoted followers of the women’s game saw this twinning of championships holding some possible danger of making the women look bad, but with a load of potential upside in the possibility it might be the most watched women’s golf event ever. Wie’s winning was the best possible result for women’s fans thinking that way, because her crossing over to play PGA Tour events as a young teen was a marketing bonanza, vaulting her profile beyond what most women in golf have ever enjoyed.
The curious were waiting to see how Wie’s victory compared to the lackluster TV ratings the U.S. Open received with Martin Kaymer running away in an eight-shot rout. The final round of the men's version pulled a 3.3 overnight rating; the women's got a 1.7 rating. But while the men's Open was down 46 percent from a year ago (when Justin Rose won over Phil Mickelson and Co., and Tiger Woods competed), the women's Open was up 92 percent and the best since 2007. Wie's victory also bettered final-round coverage of the Travelers Championship, which got a 1.2 rating, and it was the top non-World Cup sporting event on network TV, according to Sports Media Watch.
“Michelle Wie winning the golf tournament, I don't think you can script it any better,” runner-up Stacy Lewis said. “I think it's great for the game of golf. I think it's even better for women's golf.”
Lewis knows what kind of jolt Wie can give the tour hitting leaderboards on a regular basis.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better for this tour,” Lewis said.
Wie has vaulted from No. 100 in the Rolex world rankings a little more than a year ago to No. 7 in this week’s rankings.
This is already a magical year for the women’s game. In the year’s first major, Lexi Thompson beat Wie in a head-to-head final-round duel at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. With Wie battling Rolex No. 1 Lewis at the end of her victory at Pinehurst No. 2, the women delivered high drama the men couldn’t provide in their final round. Wie’s title gives Americans claim to the first two women’s majors of the year for the first time this century, since Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster opened 1999 winning the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA Championship.
“With the help of [commissioner] Mike Whan, under his command, the tour has really started to flourish,” Wie said. “I think this week, playing on the same stage as the men, I think it opens the door for us to get better, to get bigger.”
The USGA couldn’t have drawn up better synergy linking the U.S. Open to the U.S. Women’s Open. It started with the women’s arrival in the final round of the U.S. Open, with Wie, Thompson, Ko, Cristie Kerr and other LPGA stars inside the ropes watching Kaymer win.
“Just an absolutely wonderful two weeks, great golf,” said Dan Burton, chairman of the USGA’s championship committee. “I think we achieved every objective we could have possibly set out to enumerate. We presented the golf course, I think, both weeks in almost perfect fashion.”
It begs the question when the USGA might do this again, but the answer’s uncertain. With future U.S. Women’s Opens being moved to a new permanent date at the start of June, USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked when it makes sense to do this again.
“We've been asking ourselves that same question,” Davis said. “It won't be a regular thing if we do this.”
Pinehurst No. 2, with its rough-hewn agronomy, proved the perfect venue to stage back-to-back championships. The earliest the U.S. Open could return there is 2022. The dates are booked out until then.
Bob Dedman, Pinehurst’s owner, told GolfChannel.com he wants the U.S. Open back as soon as he can get it. Davis told Golfchannel.com a return is highly likely.
“I don’t think it’s a question of if we are going to return to Pinehurst No. 2, but a question of when,” Davis said.
Davis said the USGA won’t look at future venues until the fall, but Pinehurst No. 2 has formally invited the USGA to return. Dedman’s invite is among 20 the USGA will consider.
“You would be hard pressed to find a better place,” Davis said of Pinehurst No. 2s suitability for staging the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks.
The grand experiment by all accounts was a hit, and now women’s golf waits to see if they’ve earned an encore.