Michelle Wie wins the 2014 US Open (Photo: Getty)
Michelle Wie bore a smile the like of which we’d never witnessed before, and feared we never might see, as she raised her arms in triumph in the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst No 2.
Finally she had won her first major, an occasion the world of golf would come far sooner given the prodigious talent she displayed in her first year of the teens. She is now 24, and as the great Annika Sorenstam pointed out in TV commentary today, she herself was 24 before she won her first of 10 majors.
The massive gallery gave her a Tigeresque reception and she looked so humble as she acknowledged their cheers. As a 13-year-old, she was tipped to be the Tiger Woods of women’s golf and Nike, when she turned professional, handed her a massive contract just as the sports company had when Tiger Woods departed the amateur ranks.
She was showered in champagne by a group of players, including world No 1 Stacey Lewis and Jessica Korda who won our national open in 2012, and their were tears of joy tumbling forth.
For this ageing golf writer watching on TV from afar it was one of the memorable moments in 50-plus years chronicling the great game.
In her TV interview before signing her card, Wie in part: “… Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening.”
Yes, she’s returned from the depths of despair of just a couple of years ago to claim the most coveted trophy in women’s golf.
“Obviously there were moments of doubt in there. But obviously I had so many people surrounding me, my family, my friends, my coaches, David Leadbetter (her main coach), everyone, my agency, IMG, they never lost faith in me, that’s what pushed me forward. It’s just amazing.”
Another who watched here in Australia was former ALPG executive director Warren Sevil who told us: “It was very, very impressive. She showed a lot of skill, talent and resolve and I think the floodgates will open now and I can’t think of any reason why she cannot dominate the game.
“She was probably the most talented woman golfer there’s ever been, her swing and her skills, she has the game. She’s proved a lot of people wrong. There have been a lot of critics and doubters."
“What we saw from her these pasts few days is the ability to win on any golf course. The Women’s British Open (seems perfect) for her low stinger shots. Her head in now in a good place and her strength of mind, well we saw that today. It’s just great for women’s golf an the LPGA Tour.”
It was at the Women’s Australian Open at Royal Canberra in February last year – Wie’s first appearance in our country – where Sevil aided and abetted me in writing one of the more provocative and controversial pieces of my career.
It was headlined: Michelle Wie a phenomenal talent stifled.
As those more familiar with the Internet than I would say, the story went viral with the American media writing comment pieces and attaching a link to the full article.
“What was written last year was never spoken about publicly but other people had thought the same but were reluctant to talk about it,” Sevil said today.
Indeed, I had a “Please Explain” email from the LPGA Tour while Sevil received a similar communication from IMG. We were both steadfast in the belief that it was a story that needed to be told and that maybe, just maybe, what we saw this morning may finally eventuate.
“I have no regrets about the article,” says Sevil.
No do I.
The theme was the total domination Wie’s parents – father B.J., a Professor of Transportation at the University of Hawaii and her mother Bo, a former Korean amateur champion – seemed to have over her even a year after becoming eligible to drink alcohol in the US which is 21 in contrast to here in Australia where it is 18.
She appeared to be being smothered by her parents, and also her management company. Wrong decisions, most thought, were being made in her career path like playing eight USPGA Tour events in her mid teens and missing all eight cuts.
“Let the girl go and let her natural talent shine through. Cut the strings and just let her out there and let her be the natural Michelle Wie. My fear is that it is just too late. I’m saying it right now, but everyone else is saying it too (in private). It’s too late,”Sevil said in February last year.
“I’d like it’s not because I’m a huge fan of hers. I saw her at 13 and thought this girl will be No 1 at 18. She’s now 23 and the expectation of everyone is that she should have won 15-20 times by now. No one on this planet has such huge potential talent.
“It’s a shame. She’s being smothered into oblivion,” Sevil said.
That was just 16 months ago. Now she is US Women’s Open Champion. It was her second victory this year on the LPGA Tour and she’s had seven other top 10 finishes.
TV yesterday showed us her Mum Bo waving her fist in the air as Wie had three putts up her sleeve to win the championship on the 72nd green, and it was a mere formality from there.
Three putts were all she needed for a two-shot victory over Stacey Lewis who has posed a serious question for Wie’s mental strength by finishing with a four under 66 to post a number in the clubhouse.
On the long par four 16th, Wie chose to hit a rescue club from the bunker, verging on sandy-waste that proliferates Pinehurst No 2, into more of the stuff on the right of the green. Her ball lodged in a clump of native grass and took just under the allowed five minutes to find.
It was a situation that would have caused an onslaught of demons of the mind in others, but Wie chose to take an unplayable lie and took the ball further back while keeping the ball in line with the pin and the original resting point of the her ball.
She pitched on, and two putted for double-bogey and her lead was cut to just one stroke over the waiting Lewis who was already out on the practice range warming up for a possible playoff. Wie walked from the green with a smile on her face. Tiger Woods would have been fuming.
But, on the par three 71st, Wie hit her tee shot to around seven metres and holed the putt for birdie – “She’s holed it,” Lewis’ caddie told his player on the range.
So, after being safely on the 72nd green for two, Wie with strokes to spare could smell the roses, though there were none in the vicinity, and savour the moment.
Critics, not of Wie, but those around her like Sevil and myself just loved it too.
But, let’s not forget to mention Wie’s quite bizarre putting stance. In last year’s article, I wrote that her back is almost parallel to the ground as she addresses the ball, a technique should Dame Laura Davies (as she now is after the recent UK Queens Birthday Honors list was announced) would topple to the ground.
Wie herself on Saturday at Pinehurst said after being questioned about it that she had watched herself in a mirror while bending to the ground and said, “Wow.”
But, the proof of the effectiveness of the stance lies in the statistics. She played 72 holes at Pinehurst No 2 without a three-putt, a feat that surely hasn’t been performed before in a US Open, and then there is the fact that two years ago she was 119th in putting average on the LPGA Tour and now she is fourth.
Elegant, dignified, it is not but she is the champion and her career has been reborn. She has answered her critics in emphatic fashion and let’s embrace the prospect of her continuing to deliver what all and sundry had taken as a given so many years ago.