No time like the present for Michelle Wie
You half expect she would be bitter by now, maybe even a little vindictive with her career on a decided upswing after being all but written off for much of it.
Michelle Wie admitted Sunday "it wasn't always easy," but transmitted nothing but positive energy after a come-from-behind win at the LPGA Lotte Championship in her hometown of Honolulu.
"People are entitled to their opinions, I obviously have opinions about other people as well," Wie said in a conference call with reporters a day after winning her third pro golf tournament and first in four years.
"I'm just really grateful for everything. I do believe everything happens for a reason and all my ups and downs, especially the downs, make me who I am today. ... Without the downs, I wouldn't be as happy as I am today."
You sense in Wie the blossoming not just of a professional golfer comfortable with her game, but a 24-year-old woman comfortable with herself. But then, there has always been more to Wie than the golf prodigy with the gorgeous swing.
Several years ago, while a student at Stanford, she seemed to find that other side, discovering relief from the pressure and often less-than-satisfying results on the course, with a sketch pad and a real passion for art.
Her friends already know that she also enjoys sewing, blogging, is an accomplished baker and a self-professed foodie who can eat "a lot for such a skinny girl," one acquaintance said with a laugh. She is gluten/dairy-free but has a special fondness for ribs and sushi and, oddly for the Hawaiian native, is allergic to pineapples.
Several times, Wie called the win this weekend "a dream come true," which may seem odd for someone who had so much so young. She was to be the female Tiger Woods, received Tiger-like endorsements before she could drive a car, and was often characterized as a disappointment to a pro tour that was counting on her to be the type of superstar who could transcend the game like an Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa.
But while Wie's results did not necessarily comply, her fans stayed loyal and her galleries stayed strong, waiting patiently for her obvious talent to come to fruition.
On Sunday, Wie seemed to struggle for the answers as much as anyone has, stymied as to whether she is playing well lately because she is having fun, or having fun because she is playing well.
"It's a two-way street," she said. "I'm definitely happy to be playing well, but I'm definitely enjoying being out there. I think I'm treating it a lot more like a game when I'm out there. 'Let's see if I can hit this shot. Let's see if I can make this putt.' It's not life and death out there. I'm definitely having a lot more fun, and hopefully it's showing."
It certainly has been lately. In 2012, she finished in the top 10 just once in 23 tournaments. In 2013, there were four top-10 finishes in 26 starts. She switched to a severe-looking tabletop putting style and it looked no less a desperate move when she took five weeks away from the tour at the end of last year.
I'm just really grateful for everything. I do believe everything happens for a reason and all my ups and downs, especially the downs, make me who I am today.Michelle Wie
But for the kid who once seemingly never took a break, this was just what she needed, she said.
"I came home to Hawaii and didn't bring my golf clubs, which was really strange because I don't know how to pack without my golf bag," she said.
But unlike recent years, she said, this was "active rest," as she hiked, did yoga and got her body stronger. And in 2014, she responded with seven cuts made in her first seven starts, all top-16 finishes, including a fourth place at the Honda LPGA Thailand, runner-up to Lexi Thompson at the Kraft-Nabisco two weeks ago and then the LPGA Lotte Championship.
The win puts her No. 1 on the LPGA Tour money list at $616,500.
"I think I'm just getting more comfortable being a golfer ... with who I am, and I think that's resonating to having more fun out there," she said.
"When I was young, I loved being out on the golf course, but it's hard being in the public eye when you're growing up and going through everything. But I definitely think I'm past the awkward middle-school/high-school stage now."
And then some, though she reminds us that this was a gradual process and not a result of any dramatic adjustments.
"I think it was working on the same thing [swing coach] David Leadbetter and I have always been working on," she said. "We just knew it wasn't going to be an overnight change. Sometimes hard work shows up in one day, sometimes it shows up in a year. But being patient really pays off."
Is she better today, she was asked, than when she had six top-five finishes in 2006 at 16?
Her answer indicated it may not matter.
"When I played really well as a kid, I was like, 'Oh, I played well, yea,'" she said. "Now I'm so grateful and it means a lot more to me."
The tour, she said, will benefit with the added exposure "it deserves from so many great personalities." It also benefits from wins by great young talent such as Thompson and Lydia Ko and, yes, Wie, who can still draw attention like no other.
But for now, she's just having fun.
"Obviously, I have dreams and long-term goals, but in the short term I just want to stay in the present," she said. "A lot of times, I kind of think too far ahead or try to plan out everything and I'm just going to try to take it day-by-day, shot-by-shot and just really stay in the present and do the best I can to stay in the moment. If I do that, the rest just kind of takes care of itself."