Michelle Wie’s scars are something to behold now.
They are a road map marking her journey to redemption and rebirth.
They tell the story of her gritty victory Saturday night at the Lotte Championship better than any scorecard could.
Wie didn’t get to this trophy with the strut of an invincible phenom destined to change the game. She won this trophy with the resolve of a bloodied boxer getting up off the mat after refusing to be counted out. She punched her way to her first win in nearly four years with might mustered from lessons learned in so much disappointment and failure.
“I’m so happy, I can’t think straight,” Wie said after coming from four shots behind in the final round to win in front of hometown friends and fans in Hawaii. “It’s a dream come true.”
At 24, Wie isn’t the same player who stormed onto the women’s stage as a 13-year-old with a game big enough to contend in majors. She isn’t the child prodigy so many despised as entitled because they believed she reaped rewards that weren’t rightly earned. She isn’t the can’t-miss kid resented for taking shortcuts to fame, either. No, she’s the comeback kid now, the veteran who persevered through swoons and slumps to keep a dying dream alive.
Wie’s earning every accolade she’s receiving now. That’s what her scars tell us. She is the broken player who put herself back together. That’s her story now. It’s a tale so many more folks outside her native Hawaiian home can embrace.
“I think she has come full circle, to the point where I think this is like a second coming for her, a rebirth,” David Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com two weeks ago at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where Wie’s runner-up finish marked her best performance in a major.
With her brilliant charge Saturday, Wie rekindled the excitement she first brought to golf as a phenom. She reignited hope she can build on this victory because so many within the game believe Wie is still capable of lifting the LPGA’s profile more than any other player.
“I think I definitely will have more confidence now,” Wie said.
Wie’s win is just the third of her LPGA career, her first since she won the Canadian Women's Open late in 2010. She started the final round four shots behind Angela Stanford but erased the deficit before they reached the turn.
For Wie’s peers, the win is hardly a shocker.
“You knew it was going to happen, eventually,” Stanford said. “She’s been playing great.”
The week laid out perfectly for Wie. She was coming home to Hawaii with confidence and momentum after her runner-up finish to Lexi Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco. She was coming home to Ko Olina Golf Club, a course she grew up playing. She was coming home to a state eager to see her win in Hawaii for the first time as a pro.
“The support I felt from everyone was unbelievable,” Wie said. “I really think a lot of times they willed the ball in.”
With Thompson’s breakthrough win at the Kraft, there’s something special brewing in the women’s game. For many, Wie is still the player most capable of lifting the LPGA to another level, if she can build on this victory.
“It’s going to be such a happening, if it’s happening,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin told Golf Channel viewers after Wie won the Lotte Championship.
Wie was so good, so early. She was No. 3 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when they were first created. She was just 16 but ranked behind only No. 1 Annika Sorenstam and No. 2 Paula Creamer.
From ages 13 to 16, Wie played in 12 major championships and finished top-five in six of them.
Her fall was hard.
Though she made big news early competing against men on sponsor exemptions in PGA Tour events, the novelty wore off. She struggled against the men while resentments grew in the women’s game.
Through it all, there was escalating pressure, suffocating scrutiny and a failure to build on early promise. There was unrelenting criticism of her parents for their intense involvement in every facet of her game. Then there were injuries – a broken wrist, a severe ankle sprain and a bulging disc in her back.
In 2012, in a not-so triumphant recommitment to golf after graduating from Stanford, Wie missed 10 cuts in 23 starts and finished 64th on the money list.
Going into the Kraft Nabisco Championship a year ago, Sorenstam was bold enough to put words to what so many were thinking about Wie’s failed promise.
“What I see now is that the talent that we all thought would be there is not there,” Sorenstam said in a Golf Magazine interview.
When Wie left last year’s Kraft Nabisco, she was No. 88 in the world.
It’s all the failure that led to her slide, and all the hard work climbing back, that make Wie more appreciative of what so many hope really is her second coming. Her scars will forever define the journey.