Michelle Wie reflects after 84 at KPMG: 'I'm not entirely sure how much more I have left in me'
Perhaps the most widely recognized face on the LPGA Tour is Michelle Wie.
Put her in a grocery store in Omaha, Oakland or Orlando and someone will certainly know who she is -- if only from her terse, but sassy "Morning, boys" line from her years-old Kia commercial when she came squealing up to the front door of a country club with hip-hop thumping in the background.
Florida's Lexi Thompson might come in second for public recognition, but for the most part, Wie is the one who crosses into mainstream America with her stature (she's 6-foot tall), multicultural appeal (she's Korean-American), brute strength in the game (when she's healthy), and a history of playing golf with the guys starting at a very young age.
But what happened to Wie? Where did this wunderkind go after winning the 2014 U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2, a display of harnessed control on a venerable old course that was largely digesting the rest of the field? It would be her first -- and, to date, only -- major championship win.
And where is that same lanky, confident amateur from Hawaii who became the youngest player to qualify for a USGA championship at age 10? Or the player who turned professional in 2005, before her 16th birthday? That precocious young player brimming with confidence seemed like a distant memory to Wie during Thursday's opening round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.
She carded a score of 12-over 84 and left the course with more questions than answers about her future.
"It's just one of those situations where -- I'm not entirely sure how much more I have left in me, so even on the bad days, I'm just like trying to take time to enjoy it," the 29-year-old said.
As a young pro, Nike and Sony came calling. Endorsements estimated at more than $10 million a year tumbled into her bank account before she was eligible to join the LPGA Tour. Wie wasn't old enough to vote, but she was a big enough golf star -- even as a teen without a tour -- to make the journeymen LPGA Tour players grumble.
Wie was given an exemption to play in the PGA Tour's Sony Open in 2004, making her the youngest woman to compete in a PGA tournament. Even when she missed the cut by one stroke at that event, her 36-hole total was better than 47 Tour players and tied the scores of 15 others.
The teenager bounced around between the LPGA, PGA, Asian and European Tours, accepting limited tournament exemptions and winning fans wherever she went. She made the cut on the Asian Tour at a 2006 men's tournament in South Korea.
And she pocketed appearance fees because she sold tickets to tournaments. Put Wie's smiling face on a poster and people came to see what she could do.
But Wie wasn't just a fresh-faced glamor girl. She could hit the ball. Her club at impact had a different sound and it turned heads.
Once during a round at the former Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she played as an amateur, the tour's then-longest hitter, Akiko Fukushima of Japan, could be seen nervously smoking cigarettes behind trees during the round as Wie's gallery enveloped them and the teen's tee shots sailed 25 yards past the pros'.
Wie had the swagger. And she seemed destined on a parallel path comparable to another multicultural Nike representative over on the PGA Tour.
It's just one of those situations where ... I'm not entirely sure how much more I have left in me, so even on the bad days, I'm just like trying to take time to enjoy it.Michelle Wie
As her career moved forward, she straddled between following the guidance of her ever-present parents and doing things her own way. One statement of independence came when she enrolled at Stanford University and graduated in 2012, while playing on the LPGA Tour. She skipped playing college golf, but she didn't skip college and she didn't give up golf.
Wie also did not petition the LPGA Tour for early membership at age 17, electing instead to dabble on tours around the world for exemptions and the chance to play for prize money. Even after earning full 2009 LPGA membership at the LPGA's annual qualifying tournament in December 2008 (where she tied for seventh), Wie made it clear she was still interested in competing against men. Still wanting to do it her way.
Then the injuries came. She took off four months from competition in 2007 with injuries to both wrists. She reported in 2008 that she had three broken bones in her wrists. Two years ago, she injured her right hand in a car accident, resulting in a bone chip and eventual surgery.
Fast forward to 2019 and the player affectionately called "Wiesy" by her peers has not had it easy this year. She has played in only two events prior to this week's KPMG Women's PGA Championship and missed both cuts.
Wie began icing her right hand on the second hole during Thursday's first round. She applied pain cream. And she pressed on, even as ugly as a round as it was: six bogeys, two double-bogeys, one quadruple-bogey and two birdies.
Lydia Ko, who played in Wie's pairing, watched the player she calls "a role model" struggle against the formidable Hazeltine National Golf Club while wrestling with physical pain.
"She's such a fighter," said Ko of New Zealand, who carded a 1-under 71. "She was positive ... and [she said], 'Good shot,' when Minjee [Lee] and I hit good shots. It just shows what kind of a class player she is."
Wie hadn't competed since the ANA Inspiration in early April and she just started hitting balls again last week.
"It's been hard sitting out during the middle of the season," Wie said of her weeks of rehab on Tuesday before the tournament started. "There's really nothing worse."
She added: "I'm feeling hopeful."
Yet those hopes faded fast as she dabbed tears and tried to articulate her thoughts as she left the course after Thursday's round.
"It's a tough golf course, but I'm really, really happy that I played," Wie said. "[I'm] just feeling a lot of joy just being out there, and, you know, competing again. It's going to take time and I've just got to be patient, and thankfully I have all afternoon to get warm again and take care of my wrist."
Beyond this afternoon is a different matter. Her injury at this stage of her career, when there should be a lot more gravy on the potatoes, was one that sent Wie to the parking lot with red eyes and so many questions.
As she covered her face, wiping away tears, she added a final thought under her breath.
"I just love being out here," she said.
Lisa D. Mickey has covered golf for Golf World, Golf For Women, The New York Times, the U.S. Golf Association, LPGA.com, Virginia Golfer Magazine and for various other publications and websites. She is based in Florida.