Michelle Wie wanted to walk up to every Stanford freshman she saw on Monday and give them a hug. Why? Because she wanted to trade places.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” said Wie, who tried to conjure up ways she could travel back in time and experience life on The Farm all over again. After an emotional victory at the LPGA Lotte Championship, Wie took a redeye out of Honolulu on Sunday and, after a quick nap the next morning, made her first trek to Stanford since she graduated in 2012.
For those who still believe Wie made a mistake when she chose to juggle five years at Stanford while playing the LPGA, well, you’re mistaken.
Wie calls her time in Palo Alto, Calif. – #nerdnation – the best years of her life.
The joy she found at Stanford, the relationships she formed and the knowledge she gained simply could not be found on the LPGA alone. Wie needed those distractions, that fullness of life that perhaps went missing during her tumultuous teen phenom years.
“I just really fell in love with the places, the people, and obviously, Stanford,” Wie said.
At a place like Stanford, where there are many young prodigious people, Wie blended in. Her manager, Jamie Kuhn, asked if people would be in awe of her when she stepped back on campus, two days after a big win. Wie said no.
“They really didn’t care because they’ve accomplished so much themselves,” Wie said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you just play golf. I did this and and this and this.’ ”
It’s easy to see now that life for Wie is about more than winning tournaments, though that certainly is the icing she has long chased.
Wie’s college reunion was made possible because this week the LPGA returned to the Bay Area for the first time since 2010 for the inaugural Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club.
The LPGA’s list of winner’s in 2014 is dreamlike for a tour that fights for every second of attention it receives.
Jessica Korda, Karrie Webb, Anna Nordqvist, Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie.
Those last two 6-footers hold the keys to what could be a massive year for the LPGA if their hot play continues throughout the summer.
But back to Wie, who leads the tour in scoring average (69.57), money ($616,555) and greens in regulation (81 percent). She has been a model of consistency this year, finishing no worse than 16th. That runner-up finish to Thompson at the Kraft harkens back to 2005 and 2006, when Wie had five top-5 finishes in eight majors. She joined the LPGA in ’09.
Suzann Pettersen, a fellow Nike/Leadbetter hotshot who counts Michelle as a friend, echoes most golf fans when she declares that so far, Wie has underachieved.
“She’s way better than what she has performed up to this date, since she joined the tour,” Pettersen said. “She has every shot in the bag.”
David Leadbetter now calls Wie “well-balanced” and points out the spring in her step and the sparkle in her eye. It took Wie more than a year to adjust to life after Stanford. Leadbetter said the transition of moving from part-time student to full-blown LPGA player wasn’t easy.
“A year ago she really couldn’t have cared less if she played golf or not,” Leadbetter said.
She did it because she had to, because it was expected of her.
And now, as her confidence returns, so does her love for the game.
Both Leadbetter and Wie point to the offseason in Hawaii as a key point to her success. Wie left her clubs at home, immersed herself in yoga, long hikes and time spent with childhood friends. She got her body in shape for the season and refreshed her mind.
The results speak for themselves. Leadbetter believes Wie’s victory in Hawaii could “open the floodgates.”
“I definitely do think I’m enjoying being out there,” Wie said. “I definitely treat the game a lot more like a game.”
If there ever was a time Wie could snap at the naysayers, this is it. But she won’t do it. A grown-up Wie, who has never looked more elegant in her oversized visor – an ode to Grace Park and wrinkle prevention – and svelte frame, instead takes the high road when it comes to her critics.
“I think everyone has their own opinion,” Wie said. “Obviously I’m not perfect. I do get angry. But at the same time, I think saying stuff while you’re angry in public, I think it stays forever. I don’t believe in negative public lashes like that.”
She’s content to let her game say it all.