Michelle Wie couldn’t have landed in a better place to rebound from her loss at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Returning to her Hawaiian home this past week, with an entire state eager to embrace her, she responded with some of the most brilliant golf of her career, coming from four shots behind in the final round Saturday to win the Lotte Championship at Ko Olina Golf Club, the course she grew up playing.
“I definitely cried a little bit last night,” Wie said on Sunday in a teleconference. “It truly was a dream come true to win my first tournament on U.S. soil in my hometown, with all my friends and family watching.”
And now Wie, 24, couldn’t land in a better place to follow up her first win in nearly four years. Wie heads to San Francisco this week to play in the Swinging Skirts Invitational at Lake Merced Golf Club. She’s returning to the Bay Area for the first time since she graduated from Stanford two years ago.
“I haven’t been back to Stanford since I graduated,” Wie said. “Hopefully, I’ll have time to visit.”
Wie is planning to have dinner on Monday night in San Francisco with some of the friends she made while at Stanford. She still raves about her time there, at how happy she was and how much she grew up.
“I definitely miss school,” Wie said. “I’d like to go back to school at some point - not now, obviously.”
"Feherty" visits Michelle Wie at Stanford
Going to Stanford and getting a degree was a childhood dream of Wie’s. Suddenly, so many other dreams are coming back into focus. With her resurgence this year, she’s regaining form that makes her look as if she will become a considerable threat for some of the top prizes in the women’s game this year.
“I have dreams, long-term goals,” Wie said.
Good luck getting them out of her. She’s smartly sticking to the mantra that’s working so well for her this year. She keeps saying she just wants to be more consistent. She knows doing so will bring larger goals into play. It’s working like a charm.
Wie heads to San Francisco first in LPGA money winnings ($616,555), first in scoring (69.57), first in hitting greens in regulation (81 percent) and first in rounds under par (25).
“I’m really in a good place with my swing right now,” Wie said.
Winning Saturday in Hawaii, Wie formidably dissected Ko Olina Golf Club in difficult winds. She split the middle of so many fairways with that low, screaming stinger 3-wood of hers. She hit 10 of 14 fairways in the final round. She hit 15 greens in regulation, and she needed just 28 putts.
“Michelle had everything under control,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “She really has all her ducks in a row now. She’s just going to get better and better and really fulfill her star potential, I think.”
It isn’t just the crispness of ball striking that has Leadbetter so excited about Wie’s game. It’s what he feels radiating out of her heart again.
“She’s in love with the game again,” Leadbetter said. “Her whole attitude’s changed, tremendously.”
After graduating from Stanford, Wie was expected to elevate her game with her focus no longer divided. She didn’t. In fact, she slumped. In 2012, she missed the cut 10 times in the 16 events she played where there were cuts. She missed five cuts in a row.
Wie said at Kraft Nabisco that her frustration mounted seeing no rewards for all the hard work she was putting into her game. There was no fun in that.
“It was sad,” Leadbetter said. “She was working hard, putting in more hours on the range, and nothing was happening. She was desperately trying to make something happen. She was forcing things. Once you start losing confidence, it’s hard.”
Leadbetter said he saw the frustrations choking Wie’s love of the game. While Wie’s game showed signs of rebounding in 2013, Leadbetter sensed a weariness in her. At year’s end, he told her to take five weeks off without touching a club. She went home to Hawaii feeling funny because she didn’t pack a usual staple on all her trips.
“I didn’t bring my clubs home,” Wie said. “It was strange. I kind of had some anxiety about it.”
Wie said she worked out hard during her five weeks away from golf, did a lot of yoga and hiked a lot. When she returned to Florida to see Leadbetter for a preseason boot camp before starting this year, she was revitalized. They picked up with changes that were working late in the ’13 season.
Leadbetter said he saw a spark returning to Wie’s game at the Solheim Cup late last summer. He saw all the pieces of her revitalized game coming together in her run at the Kraft Nabisco two weeks ago. He really saw it in her final-round charge in her victory at the Lotte Championship.
“It was great to see her so full of confidence,” Leadbetter said. “She was just beaming.”
Leadbetter said people never understood how the injuries Wie has endured through the years hurt her game. They changed her swing. Wie broke three bones in her left wrist in ’07 in a fall. Leadbetter had to rebuild her swing after that.
“I don’t think there’s been enough said about how many injuries she’s had and how they hurt her golf swing,” said four-time major championship winner Meg Mallon, who captained Wie in the Solheim Cup last summer. “She had to revamp her swing because she couldn’t bend her wrists very much.”
Wie tried to play through a severely sprained ankle in 2009. She tried to play through a bulging disc in her back late in 2010
Through all these injuries, there were emotional injuries, too. Wie, her parents and her managers made mistakes. There was disrespect withdrawing from Annika Sorenstam’s tournament in the middle of a round in ’07, with Wie citing injury when it appeared she was going to fail to shoot better than 88, a high score that would have disqualified her from playing in an LPGA event for a year. The next day, she was seen hitting balls at the site of the following week’s LPGA event.
With other questionable decisions, there came unrelenting criticism that Wie was entitled and over-hyped, that she was an underachieving failure who would never fulfill the promise projected for her.
“You have to have a thick skin to endure the kind of negativity that’s been directed at Michelle, and the negative things that continue to be said about her,” said Hall of Famer Beth Daniel, who captained Wie on the ’09 U.S. Solheim Cup team. “The criticism really hasn’t stopped. Yes, she won this week, but if she goes out and doesn’t play well next week, there will be more negativity. I think the expectations are so high for her, and it hurts when there’s criticism because of it.
“I really think that Michelle has one of the most positive attitudes in the game. I think that is what gets her through all of this.”
Wie was asked if her win Saturday made her to want to strike back at all the critics who doubted she’d ever win again.
“No,” she said. “People are entitled to opinions. I have opinions about people myself. I’m just so happy to win my first tournament on American soil in my hometown. I’m just happy about that, and I’m grateful. All the ups and downs I’ve been through, especially the downs, have really made me who I am today. It’s made me grateful. Without the downs, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today.”
So happy, Wie cried when Saturday’s win fully sank in.