Golf is a game of numbers. They are on the bottom of clubs, cover yardage books and fill up scorecards. In the case of Michelle Wie, who returns at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship after a two-month hiatus, certain numbers boggle the mind. Is it more impressive that she first played an LPGA event 17 years ago or that the one-time teen sensation turns 30 this year?
But perhaps the most difficult digits to digest are those detailing the impact of the injuries that have disrupted Wie’s career. Without the constant interruptions, her five career wins with one major championship would almost certainly be more. Now, she tries once again to get back into action.
“I'm feeling hopeful,” Wie said Tuesday at Hazeltine National where, on Thursday, she will tee it up for just her ninth tournament round of the year. “It's still a process. It's been hard sitting out during the middle of the season. There's really nothing worse. But I had to take the time to get myself back to where I want to be.”
There is almost no part of Wie that has not been damaged, beginning with an injury to her left wrist when she fell while jogging in 2007. Since then, she’s had issues with a finger, knee, hip and the other wrist. At times, it almost appears as if her body is held together by multi-colored physiotape.
There’s also been appendicitis, bursitis, strep throat and an upper respiratory infection, not to mention a list of food allergies longer than Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The most recent flare-up was dealt with through surgery in October.
“I've had a couple unfortunate falls, couple of accidents,” she said about her medical chart. “I was in a car accident two years ago which kind of created this whole thing. That's life. Things happen. You stumble across things that don't go your way, but there's still a lot of things I want to accomplish.”
The repair job in October fixed bone spurs and a trapped nerve in her right wrist and hand. She returned In February at the Honda Thailand, where she finished T-23, but had to withdraw in the next event – the HSBC Women's World Championship, where she was the defending champ.
She didn’t play again until the ANA Inspiration, where she missed the cut. Then, after missing the cut in the next tournament, the LOTTE Championship in April, she tweeted this:
“Had an encouraging visit with my doctor. However we both think it’s in my best interest to take some time away to allow my body to heal properly and get stronger. Health is my top priority right now and hopefully I can get back to being pain free real soon. Thank you everyone for staying patient with me. I appreciate y’all.”
Those who know Wie say part of the problem is her high tolerance for pain, which has led her to return from injury too quickly in the past. That’s a mistake she’s trying to avoid this time, although patience is this area goes against her very nature.
“The more times you do the same thing, you have a lot more people telling you that do not be stupid,” she said. “If I had my choice, I would be playing all through this but lot of people in my ear telling me, reminding me what has happened in the past. It's hard to sit out but you got to listen to people that know what they're talking about.”
Wie, who didn’t start hitting balls again until last week, doesn’t know what to expect at the KPMG Women’s PGA. But she says seeing NBA players compete while injured in the recent playoffs, where she and her fiancée Jonnie West cheered on the Golden State Warriors, has motivated her.
“I sat pretty close to the court and when you're there you really notice a lot of small things,” she said, describing seeing Steph Curry tape a dislocated finger and return to action and Klay Thompson shoot two foul shots after tearing the ACL in his knee.
“You also notice that being an athlete you're not ever going to be 100 percent,” she said. “Always going to go through something and it was a confirmation to me it's okay that you're hurt, that's just part of being an athlete and you just have to go through it and find a way to compete.”
Wie said she talked to the LPGA about taking a medical exemption for the season but she said doctors told her even extended rest was not a guarantee that she’d get better. What are needed is rehab and perhaps a swing change.
“Doing everything I can to get the inflammation down,” she said. “Also working on different biomechanics and trying to make my swing more sound and trying to use different parts of my body so that it takes a load off of the hands.”
For Wie, who says earning a Stanford degree and winning the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open fulfilled two of her childhood dreams, the LPGA is where she wants to be.
“I may be bull-headed and stubborn but it's just I'm happy being here,” she said. “I missed my friends out here, I missed playing, I miss competing and I'm very excited to be here.”
Seventeen years after making her LPGA debut at 12, Wie hopes this return to the tour is an extended stay.