Two years after her U.S. Women's Open win, struggling Michelle Wie still believes
SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- When Michelle Wie won the 2014 U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2 Course, overcoming a hiccup on the 70th hole to become a major champion after plenty of chances, the conventional wisdom was that her victory would not only be a highlight, but a booster rocket to a new career orbit.
The conventional wisdom was wrong.
Two years later, on the eve of another U.S. Women's Open, after multiple injuries and missed cuts, Wie is a struggling golfer merely looking for a peek of good form.
Wie doing well this week at CordeValle, located about 45 minutes south of her alma mater, Stanford University, would be a feel-good story. But there aren't many reasons to feel good that such a plot will develop.
Sure, she is inspired by a return to the Bay Area. Yes, she says her health is better. True, she was 11th in last year's Open despite having to limp around Lancaster Country Club because of a bad ankle and hip. Any upsides, though, are offset by cold, hard golf facts.
Wie hasn't had a top-10 finish in her past 40 tournaments, since the final event of 2014, a year in which she not only won twice but had 11 other top-10s. Her ball-striking and putting have been poor. In 2016, Wie has broken 70 only twice, which goes a long way toward explaining why she is 113th on the LPGA money list with $50,767.
Since withdrawing after 15 holes of the final round when she was 11 over for the day at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in April, citing neck spasms, Wie has missed the cut in five events and finished outside the top 40 in two others.
"The list goes on," Wie said of her litany of health issues. "It's just been tough, you know, last year with my hip and everything. I had to change my swing so many times. And that's just been the main thing with me -- I just haven't had a consistent swing that I can [use] and play pain free. I've been tinkering so much to try to figure out how I can play without pain."
Wie's breakout season is seeming more mirage than harbinger. At 26, even Wie needs something to jog her memory of the way she was.
"I look back at clips on YouTube," Wie said. "I think it's definitely very important. You forget. You definitely forget how good you are. And I just would be like, 'Oh, I'm not that good.' But your friends say you're amazing. You forget that when you have a tough year. But it really does help to look back at clips. 'Oh, I actually did that, I remember that.' "
More distant memories of Wie's talent exist, of course. This is the 10th anniversary of her rookie season as a professional when she was only 16 and had top-5 finishes in three majors, including the U.S. Women's Open. Those results would have been more stunning had Wie not had two top-3 major finishes the previous year, a fourth place the year before and a tie for ninth the year before that, when she teed off in the final group on the final day at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
There was always commotion and controversy around Wie as she was steered toward competing in men's tournaments, a belief that approach was more stunt than smart strategy in her development. There was also no doubt how that early promise showed a gift for the game.
"That's just life in general, I think, when you're a kid. Everything seems easy," Wie said. "You haven't had the failures yet. You haven't come across obstacles. And I think every adult can say, 'Oh, I remember when I was back in middle school or in kindergarten or something, I was so fearless.' That's just the nature of life, I think, that you learn to come across obstacles, you come across hard times, you come across lows."
Golfers' lives are full of ebb and flow, Wie's perhaps being fuller than most and certainly more visible. Even as stars like Lydia Ko, 19, and Brooke Henderson, 18, establish themselves with winning ways and personalities, Wie remains popular and recognizable to lots of fans who would welcome another successful act.
"I'm very grateful for my win at the U.S. Open," Wie said. "It was really a dream come true for me. To win another U.S. Open would mean absolutely the world to me. I definitely still feel that I can build momentum on 2014. I don't think two years is too long of a period. I think that everything comes in waves."
Wie contends that she is working hard, and that hard work will pay off if she can stay fit.
"I know the results are going to come," she said. "I've put in the long hours. My coach believes in me. My family believes in me. It's one foot forward at a time. Confidence definitely takes a hit when you don't play as well as you know you can, and you're just going out there and it's a grind. It's a brutal game. But at the same time, it's still fun. I enjoy the challenge -- that's what brings me back to the game every single time, no matter how hard [I'm] struggling."
If Wie is able to turn the corner -- whether this week or some other time -- it still makes sense that it will happen when the game seems to her more of a dance than a day shift, even if it is a job she loves. Winning encompasses a bunch of things, including a little magic, which lately for Wie has been harder to find than a fairway.