Why Michelle Wie Returns To Hawaii As A Bit Of An Enigma

Michelle Wie won twice last year and finished a career-high fourth on the money list, but there's been no such magic thus far this year. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

A professional for a decade even though she is only 25, Michelle Wie knows better than most about the highs and lows of competitive golf. Wie has been both praised and scrutinized as few others have, from the days when she made an unprecedented mark on the sport as a teenager by earning six top-four finishes in major championships before she turned 17.

On the eve of the Lotte Championship in her native Hawaii, where her resurgence began with her third career win a year ago, Wie is a bit of a mystery.

Last year -- her first two-win LPGA season, including her popular first major triumph at the U.S. Women's Open -- Wie's golf life was better than ever. She was fourth on the money list, her highest ranking ever, thanks to a stroke average of 69.82 and 13 top-10 finishes in 21 events.

It seemed to be a reinvented Wie, the odd putting stance that she concocted to stabilize her play on the greens a metaphor for a maturing golfer hitting her stride. But about a quarter of the way into the 2015 season, Wie is searching for that proficiency. Other young players have taken the spotlight. Wie has been sick -- a sinus infection and strep throat early in the season -- and ineffective between the ropes.

This year has been a struggle, particularly when compared with her 2014 success. In seven events, Wie has done no better than a tie for 24th in the season-opening Coates Golf Championship. She is 56th on the money list, and her stroke average is 71.96.

She hasn't seemed like the same golfer who won the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2 Course 10 months ago, a magical victory on a maddening course, believed to be a signal that the former teen prodigy had arrived as a full-fledged star embarking on a new chapter long in the making. Before the summer was out, however, Wie was sidelined with a stress reaction in a bone in her right index finger. She didn't win again but tied for fifth in the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Her ball-striking has been poor in 2015. She is ranked 85th in greens in regulation -- she was third in 2014 -- and 141st in driving accuracy. In the year's first major, the ANA Inspiration, Wie made 13 birdies for the week but didn't break par and tied for 57th.

She has admitted to expecting too much of herself, which she referenced again Tuesday when talking to reporters at the Lotte Championship.

"I think the key for me is just not to look too far into the future and not put too much pressure on myself," Wie said. "I just want to play really well when I come back home, kind of keep the mindset going from last year -- no pressure. Just have fun, enjoy being back home."

Wie had a great final round during the 2014 Lotte event at Ko Olina Golf Club. Trailing Angela Stanford by four after 54 holes, she rallied with a 5-under 67 to win for the first time since the 2010 Canadian Open -- a drought of 79 tournaments.

"Last year a dream really did come true for me," Wie said. "Growing up here playing a lot of junior tournaments, it always has been my dream to win at home in front of my friends and family and people who have been rooting for me since I was really young. It was really cool to do that last year."

Wie now lives in Jupiter, Florida, among a growing cadre of male and female tour pros based in that part of the Sunshine State. There is no doubt, though, that returning to Oahu, where she was born and raised, is one of her favorite stops on the LPGA schedule.

"Hawaii will forever and always be my home no matter where I live," Wie said. "You know the saying, 'You can take the girl off the island, but you can never take the island out of the girl.' It's definitely true. Every time I come back to Hawaii it always feels like I'm coming back home. These spots I go to eat, the smells and everything feels so familiar."

One of the local tastes Wie always makes sure to have when she is back in Hawaii is poke, a raw salad often made with yellowfin tuna.

"People on the mainland, they try it," Wie said. "They're like, 'Oh, authentic poke.' I'm like, 'Okay, let's try this.' And it's nothing like it."

Heading into the ANA Inspiration, Wie said she wasn't looking ahead to how 2015 would pan out, that "every week is about that week."

There is no question this week, on friendly turf where she is comfortable, would be a great time for Wie to turn another corner in a career full of them. She has an opportunity to reassert that the golfer of 2014, "in the mix every week" as she terms being in contention, is the authentic Wie.