ORLANDO, Fla. – Michelle Wie picked a pair of heels out of a brown paper bag and slipped them on before heading onto the set. Her freshly cut, honey-colored hair gave the 24-year-old her most mature look to date, and she settled into a nonstop interview shuffle that covered everything from the difficulty of finding pants long enough to play in at the Sony Open to a rib-eating challenge with Golf Channel host Charlie Rymer.
“You can out-drive me,” said Rymer, a former PGA Tour player, “but you can’t out-eat me.”
Incredibly, Thursday marked Wie’s first time to the Golf Channel studios, and she was about as low-maintenance as it gets. In fact, Wie spent so little time selecting outfits for the occasion that she forgot to pack golf clothes, relying on her manager to pull a pair of black Nike pants and a polka-dotted pink shirt out of her bag of tricks. For the record, Wie looked runway-esque in each of her three looks, and her parents weren’t there.
Between segments, Wie chatted about her love of Spam, Stanford football (sore subject) and her favorite rib joint in Jupiter, aptly named “Park Avenue.” The older Wie gets, the more down-to-earth the former child prodigy seemingly becomes. In the beginning, B.J. and Bo Wie told their only child not to read anything that’s written about her in the press, and to this day she obliges. Good advice, considering she’s been a 6-foot lightning rod since middle school.
In the Green Room, Wie snacked on fruit and talked more in detail about her month in her native Hawaii – without her golf clubs.
“It was amazing,” said Wie, who left behind her sticks for the first time.
Wie’s offseason was shaped by several community-service projects with which she become involved – some planned and others by chance.
The most impactful might have been the afternoon she spent serving lunch to 300-plus homeless at the River of Life Mission in the heart of Honolulu’s Chinatown district. Wie’s best friend since childhood, Meghan Akim, likes to push her famous friend to step out of her comfort zone for charity.
“The soup kitchen was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever done,” said Wie, who was particularly impressed by the chocolate factory the mission opened on its third floor.
The woman serving food next to Wie in the soup line on Dec. 26 was a former crystal-meth addict who worked at the chocolate factory after serving a four-year prison sentence. The church hires former prisoners, Wie explained, when no one else will give them a second chance.
The woman came out of prison a mute, but now goes to community college and is on the dean’s list, healed to the point that she’s willing to share her story.
Wie also spent time at Kapiolani Medical Center making gingerbread houses with terminally ill children who had no idea that she was a household name.
One young girl wearing a Hello Kitty cape begged “Auntie Michelle” to come to the other side of the hospital to see her room. The visit made an obvious impression on Wie.
And in a moment of pure coincidence, Wie stumbled into a Make-A-Wish project while Christmas shopping at a local mall. The foundation was organizing a parade for a young girl whose dream was to be a princess. Wie helped out and then signed up for the foundation’s fledgling holiday 5K.
“I just want to make a positive impact,” said Wie, who sponsors the Michelle Wie HSJGA Tournament of Champions at Wailea, which she won at age 12. Wie has committed to financing Hawaii’s young junior players who need help funding their way off the island to compete. This year’s fundraising efforts will be a year-long effort.
“That’s the only way these kids can get better,” Wie said.
Wie looks at the work of Morgan Pressel, who on Jan. 6 raised $600,000 for the fight against breast cancer in her annual golf outing in Boca Raton, Fla., and is inspired. She admires the $3.4 million effort that Pressel has put forth in the past seven years and realizes she needs to find a similar focus.
Inside the ropes, there’s talk of becoming more consistent, of her uniquely awkward putting stance (that’s working) and that elusive major crown. Wie came back from her Hawaii respite so refreshed that she couldn’t wait to meet with instructor David Leadbetter to map out the season and look at old stats.
Wie, so pumped to get 2014 started, called her agent last week and asked her to book a room in the Bahamas. She’s ready to start earning points toward the CME Race to the Globe.
Every year we learn a little more about Michelle Wie. There are many layers to this woman of great talent, and enough mystery to keep us engaged.
One thing we know for sure: She has a big heart.