Michelle Wie highlights U.S. year

PINEHURST, N.C. -- As she walked off the No. 18 green wearing her silver second-place medal, Stacy Lewis smiled at winner Michelle Wie's mother, Bo, and congratulated her.

"Thank you!" Bo Wie said. "You made me so scared."

Lewis laughed and answered, "That was the goal!"

Indeed, the world No. 1-ranked Lewis had thrown about everything she could at Wie on the last day of the U.S. Women's Open, shooting a 66. But Wie stood up to the challenge and took home her first major title, beating Lewis by two shots.

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Michelle Wie had to hold off a hard charge by world No. 1 Stacy Lewis to capture the grandest prize of all.

Now, Americans have won three of the past four majors, dating to Lewis' victory at the Women's British Open in August 2013. The other major in that stretch is a new addition to that category, the Evian Championship, won by Norway's Suzann Pettersen.

Americans were the story going into this U.S. Women's Open, and they're an even bigger story coming out of it. Players from the United States have won nine of the 15 events on the LPGA Tour this season.

The highlight is what we just saw in the sand hills of North Carolina. Wie played exceptional golf on a very difficult and historic course. And her victory came in a tournament that had an even higher profile than usual because of the back-to-back experiment with the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

"I was just thinking that I first hoisted a USGA trophy when I was 13," Wie said Sunday, in reference to the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links championship she won in 2003. "It's a dream come true for me right now."

This U.S. Women's Open title did not come out of the blue. Wie has had a good 2014 season, including a runner-up finish in the first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April. Then she got the third LPGA victory of her career later that month, winning in her home state of Hawaii.

Wie hasn't had any bad tournaments this year; her worst finish in her 13 starts is 23rd. Including her victories, she has nine top-10s. Throughout the U.S. Women's Open, she talked about being in a good state of mind for such a pressure-packed event.

On Saturday, knowing she would be in the last pairing on the final day, Wie sounded excited and not at all intimidated.

"This is exactly where I wanted to be," she said. "That's why I work hard."

Wie also said she's learned to roll with the punches and not get rattled if things don't go exactly as planned. In her words, she used to be a "control freak" who tended to want so badly for her golf to be perfect that when it wasn't, she could fall apart.

"A lot of times, things don't happen the way I think they should in my mind," Wie said. "So I'm just kind of going out there living it day by day."

To win a tournament on a course like Pinehurst, you have to live it shot to shot.

Wie hasn't always been good at that, either. Too often, whenever she'd run into trouble on the course, she'd start worrying about what her final score might be. And you can't do that in golf. Not if you want to be consistently successful.

"Try not to think too much about the past or the future," Wie said. "Just really try to stay in the present."

For those following her career, both the past and the future were food for thought in the wake of her first major.

There have been, as Wie readily admits, some big bumps in the road. There was the heat Wie and her parents took for accepting sponsor exemptions offered by PGA Tour events when she was young. There was the big Nike contract before she'd even joined the LPGA Tour.

There was the controversy at her 2005 debut as a pro. A reporter noticed that during the third round of the Samsung World Championship, Wie had inadvertently taken a drop -- from an unplayable lie -- that was a little closer to the hole. Eventually, Wie was disqualified, and she had to forfeit her check of just over $53,000. She called it an expensive lesson.

And the last time the U.S. Women's Open was in North Carolina -- at nearby Pine Needles in 2007 -- Wie withdrew midway through her second round. That was after shooting an 82 in the first. Wie had a wrist injury then, but still got some jeers, in part because she had also withdrawn from a tournament hosted by Annika Sorenstam earlier that year.

Through all of these issues, though, Wie has held onto her bedrock love of playing. And even her harshest critics would say that while Wie at times appeared oblivious to problems other people might have had with her, she was never petulant. She had her down times, certainly, but they didn't last.

"I've been very patient, even when I didn't play well," Wie said. "I don't know if people lost faith in me, but I didn't lose faith in myself."

Will this major breakthrough have a significant impact on how Wie's career plays out? That remains to be seen. But this much is certain: She knows now she can win the biggest trophy. In many ways, Wie might just be getting started.

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