Nichols: This is only the beginning for Michelle Wie

Monday, June 23, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. – Michelle Wie strolled into the interview room wearing a stars and stripes backpack. She sat down next to the trophy and pulled it in tight. The smile was mega-watt. Her parents, B.J. and Bo, quietly sat in the back of the room soaking it all in. They had declined all interviews and any formal pictures with Michelle beneath the scoreboard. Bo said they’d take one at home in private, and she rubbed the trophy lightly as Michelle walked off the golf course.

“I can’t even think straight,” Wie said. “I’m so happy right now. I’m just unbelievably happy.”

It has been, at times, a tumultuous journey for the Wie family. For those who have watched this tight-knit threesome forge their own path to make the most of Wie’s unprecedented raw talent, only to fall and fail time and again, it was an emotional walk down the 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2.

The fact that panic set in on the 16th when Wie’s ball was momentarily lost in a bush atop a fairway bunker made it an even more fitting end to this fairytale. Wie bounced back from a double with a birdie on the 17th, letting loose two gigantic fist pumps as she headed to the 18th tee with a two-stroke lead over top-ranked Stacy Lewis.

“I didn’t let it get away from me,” Wie said proudly.

She piped a fairway metal down the 18th and hit her approach to 20 feet. On the green, she told caddie Duncan French that the putt was similar to Martin Kaymer’s and she wanted to drain it. She lowered herself into the table-top position, like some kind of mechanical doll. The putt came up short, and she went through her routine again, marking the ball and carefully finishing off her par to secure her first major crown.

At last.

A sense of joy and relief flooded her 6-foot frame and she covered her mouth to contain the emotion. Wie, 24, raised both arms in triumph and walked toward Duncan as a packed grandstand rose to its feet.

It was a full-circle moment for Wie, who had watched that same scene unfold one week prior as Kaymer cruised to victory. Wie walked inside the ropes with Jessica Korda that day and told her friend to look left.

“Those people in the stands,” Wie said. “It was unbelievable. We both got goosebumps. I thought myself, 'I want to be here on Sunday. I want to feel this exact thing.' It’s a dream come true that it actually happened. I’m extremely lucky.”

Korda rushed out to the green with champagne to celebrate. Stacy Lewis walked out after a bubbly shower to hug her friend and swap fist bumps.

Lewis’ 66 was a stunner, with birdies on 17 and 18 to post even par and put pressure on her practice buddy. When it was over, Lewis stood off the green and looked at the bigger picture.

“Network TV and this,” Lewis said, shaking her head. “You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Lewis admits that, from a distance, she often wondered why Wie chose to play against the men growing up. The first time they played against each other, Lewis said, was LPGA Q-School in 2008. Lewis won the event and resented the fact that Wie got all the credit.

Much has changed since then, with Lewis and Wie often practicing together back home in Jupiter, Fla. Lewis said she once asked Wie why she took on the PGA Tour and was surprised by the response.

Growing up in Hawaii, Wie said, she played against the guys all the time. There weren’t a lot of female amateurs to compete against so when the prospect of playing on the men’s tour came about, it made sense to her.

“Her reasoning is really quite funny because it makes sense in her head,” Lewis said. “She doesn’t look at it the way the rest of us look at it. She had this child-like perspective. She didn’t realize how big the world was.”

That path, for better or for worse, is what made Wie a household name and it’s what makes Sunday’s victory at Pinehurst so monumental for the LPGA. How fitting that the woman who spent the most time trying compete against the men wound up sharing the stage at the USGA’s most daring experiment.

It’s interesting to note that two PGA Tour players – Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley – played key roles in her success. They passed on their yardage books and their caddies’ books and Wie studied them for hours, highlighting and formulating her plan. Without those books, Wie said, she would’ve been lost.

Meg Mallon reached out to Wie on Saturday evening offering advice, and Bradley sent YouTube clips of when his aunt Pat won this title. Wie drank a couple glasses of wine and slept like a baby.

This girl who first captured our attention at age 10 has grown up. And yet, it feels like it’s just the beginning. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.