PINEHURST, N.C. - Michelle Wie followed just behind Martin Kaymer inside the ropes down the 18th fairway at Pinehurst No. 2 seven days ago, soaking in his victory lap with goose bumps canvassing her body. She wanted that feeling for herself, her very own stroll into United States golf history. She got it Sunday – and the goose bumps that come with it – with a win in the same spot Payne Stewart transfixed the golfing world 15 years ago.
“I thought to myself, I want to be here on Sunday. I want to feel this exact thing,” Wie said. “It's a dream come true that it actually happened. I feel extremely lucky.”
Everything was in doubt 30 minutes before when Wie stood in the waste area by the 16th green with a three-shot lead, searching frantically for the ball no one could find after trying to fire a hybrid at the green from 216 yards out of a fairway bunker on the course’s most demanding hole. No one saw which of the wire bushes that littered the natural area the ball had lodged itself in.
She did find it, was unable to hit it and had to take an unplayable. The championship was suddenly back in play and even more so when Wie jammed her bogey putt five feet past and was staring in the face her first three-putt of the week and a potential triple bogey that would have tied everything up with two to play. Instead, Wie – whose putting has held her back before – calmly walked up, sank the putt, and fist pumped.
Internally, she was saying “words you can’t say in public” as she left the green. Externally, she giggled and stalked her way to the 17th tee with a one-shot lead. The shot that followed she could have folded, letting a poor shot compound itself as she’d done before in majors. Not this time. She fired her tee shot 25 feet right of the pin and drained the biggest putt of her career. It was fitting that the club that had haunted her more than any other over the years ended up being her redeemer when the tension peaked.
“I just like to make it really difficult for myself. But, no, I mean I just -- stuff like that happens at a U.S. Open,” Wie said. “I was kind of a dummy for not laying up when I was in that situation [on 16]. I just unnecessarily tried to go for it, and it kind of bit me in the butt. But I laughed it off. Stuff like that does happen. 17, I felt comfortable there all week. And I hit a good shot there. And I think that was one of the best putts I've ever hit in my life. It was really fast. It was a double breaker.”
That putt officially set the “best to have never won a major” label on fire and concluded an 11-year, 38-major search. She nearly won this championship as a 15-year-old but went through a career slide from 2007 through 2008 and again from 2011 until the start of this year, playing golf that frequently didn’t match her immense talent.
Wie admitted there were times she doubted herself and doubted this moment would ever happen. No matter how hard she worked, she didn’t feel she was getting any better for a stretch. She wanted to be perfect, carrying the weight of a golfing world that had watched her accomplish things no one her age ever had before. Her instructor David Leadbetter kept telling her over and over that results sometimes took years to show, but not for her she thought. Everything had come so easy and so early with the game to have patience for improvement.
“I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned is to just really stay in the present and really try not to control everything. I think when, growing up, I was kind of a control freak. I just wanted to control everything,” she said. “Have the perfect swing. Have the perfect putting stroke. And if something wasn't perfect, then I would start to freak out. I think over the years I started to learn, notice, that you can't be perfect.”
It’s easy to forget that her first major comes before Lorena Ochoa first won hers (25) and at the same age as Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam got their first and the struggles got her here. It was obvious at the end, Wie wasn’t sure whether to smile, laugh, cry or exhale.
“I think it just means so much more to me. I think life is just so ironic. I think that without your downs, without the hardships, I don't think you appreciate the ups as much as you do,” Wie said. “I think the fact that I struggled so much, the fact that I kind of went through a hard period of my life, the fact that this trophy is right next to me, it means so much more to me than it ever would have when I was 15. Obviously, I still remember that. I try to drive the first hole. I learned not to do that at the U.S. Open on the first hole. I learned a lot. But I think life is just so ironic like that. I am just so grateful for that, just because of everything I've been through. I feel extremely lucky.”
The childhood prodigy that received criticism for competing against the men on the PGA Tour as a high schooler despite having not beaten the women yet, was asked after if she considered playing the men’s event the week before. She could only laugh at the possibility. The women’s game is hers now. She’s always been the biggest star of the women’s game and she’s got the results to match the billing now, winning golf’s greatest test on the same stage the men just competed.
“Well, I think that scene on 18, being on network TV, as many people as we had around there at Pinehurst No. 2 and Michelle Wie winning the golf tournament, I don't think you can script it any better,” world No. 1 Stacy Lewis said. “I think it's great for the game of golf. I think it's even better for women's golf. I'm so happy for Michelle Wie. I mean this has been such a long time coming for her. She works way too hard.”
The win for Wie wasn’t how she had envisioned seven days prior, it was better. There on the 18th green she stood, pouring in a par putt from a similar spot she had seen Kaymer do prior - her dream falling into her lap with that putt. Jessica Korda and Jaye Marie Green rushed out to her, spraying her with champagne as she basked in golf’s limelight for a change at a major championship. Lewis waited with a fist bump and a hug. Her parents sat off to the side of the green elated for their daughter’s big breakthrough but determined not to interrupt her moment.
Everything was all about Wie on Sunday and for all the right reasons.