Wie savors first Solheim experience

Michelle Wie celebrates during Day 1 of the Solheim Cup.

Michelle Wie celebrates during Day 1 of the Solheim Cup.

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Michelle Wie saw the masses, heard the chants and knew this was going to be a special day no matter where her shots landed.

Her performance was mostly good. The experience was better.

Wie got her first taste of Solheim Cup play on Friday and was still savoring it long after she left the course.

“I think this was the most fun I’ve ever had playing,” she said. “It was just unbelievable – the crowd, the cheers, everything about it. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on the golf course.”

Wie has competed in majors and gone up against the men, but those experiences didn’t compare to this. Adding to the fun was the fact that Wie had a decent round, with four birdies before a bumpy finish that left her and Morgan Pressel halved with Women’s British Open champion Catriona Matthew and Maria Hjorth in the morning fourball session.

She then watched the afternoon session, as did Pressel and Brittany Lang, with American captain Beth Daniel opting to conserve players’ energy rather than have them play five rounds this weekend.

Pressel and Wie were 2-down through 11 holes before making a run over the final seven. Wie birdied the 13th to pull even and converted a 10-footer for par on the next hole, allowing Pressel to knock in an 8-foot birdie.

But they lost the lead on 18.

Wie, who bogeyed No. 17, drove her final tee shot into deep rough and, when she punched out, the ball landed in a muddy divot. Rules officials gave her relief even though the spot hadn’t been marked – they hadn’t thought they needed to since it was between shots – and European captain Alison Nicholas questioned them for a few minutes.

“They didn’t think anyone was going to hit it there, so they didn’t mark it,” Wie said. “And my ball got there, and I was like wondering if it was a ground repair or not. So then I guess they were just talking about why it wasn’t marked, and they just wanted an explanation.”

Wie’s next shot hit a front bunker, anyway, and Pressel’s chip from the rough went to the other side of the green. Matthew made a 12-footer for the Europeans, wiping out the Americans’ lead.

That sour finish aside, it was a sweet day for Wie.

Hailed as the LPGA’s answer to Tiger Woods ever since she captured the Women’s Amateur Public Links at 13 and became the youngest winner of a USGA championship for adults, Wie hasn’t quite lived up to that billing over the past six years.

Players grumbled about the attention she received early on, and there were reports of a rivalry with Pressel, who also burst onto the scene at a young age. Her attempts to play with the men have failed, and although Wie has contended at the majors, she is still seeking her first win on the women’s tour.

Even so, Wie was 13th in the Solheim Cup standings after an 11th-place tie at the British Open. Not bad considering she only started collecting points this year and had played a limited schedule since she was 13.

She’s finished among the top 10 in five of 13 tournaments this year, and Daniel said it was a “no-brainer” to take Wie with one of her two captains picks.

Now, other players are getting to know her a little better this week. Wie and Pressel are even staying at the same place, and if there was a rivalry, that ended a long time ago. When someone asked about it, Pressel deferred to Lang, who said: “That’s a pretty easy one. I didn’t know you were enemies.”

Pressel added: “That’s how the media portrayed us.”

Wie, sitting between them, simply let the other two do the talking. She was still smiling, though. Still savoring the day.

“Walking down each tee box to each green felt like you were walking down 18 in contention in a major, and you times that by 100, and that’s what it felt like,” Wie said, as her parents Bo and B.J. looked on in the interview room.

Fans chanted “USA! USA!” and roared with every big shot. They wore shirts and jackets emblazoned with the red, white and blue, and they carried flags. She saw the Junior Solheim Cup team singing, too, and said it was “just so awesome.”

Was she surprised? Not exactly.

“It was just the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I mean, it was unbelievable. You just get the fire. Every putt and every shot you’re thinking, ‘God, let’s make this crowd erupt. They’re ready to explode, and let’s do it.’ I mean, that was all I was thinking.”

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