If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a number must be good for 999. Such is the case with Michelle Wie West, whose numerical odyssey of age, achievement, distance and daring is one of the compelling tales of 21st century golf.
I’m not certain which amazes me more: that I have been covering Michelle’s career for 18 years or that the one-time preteen sensation is now 30 years old and on June 19th became a Mom when she and Jonnie West welcomed daughter Makenna Kamalei Yoona West into their lives.
But of this there is no doubt: One day down the road, when Makenna is old enough to read and count, these are some of the remarkable numbers she will consider about her mom:
- At 12, Michelle became the youngest LPGA Monday qualifier, missing the cut at the 2002 Takefuji Classic by three strokes.
- At 13, she was T-9 at the 2003 ANA Inspiration, her first LPGA major. The next year she was fourth.
- Michelle was second in the 2005 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June then turned pro in October, shortly before her 16th birthday.
- As a 16-year-old in 2006, she was T-3 in the ANA Inspiration; T-5 in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship; T-3 in the U.S Women’s Open and T-2 in the Evian Masters.
- Michelle became an LPGA Member in 2009; played her first Solheim Cup, going 3-0-1, and got the first of five Tour wins at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
- She graduated from Stanford University in 2012; won her first LPGA major at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open and in 2019 married Jonnie West.
Each number tells a story of determination and desire. Along the way there were high-profile forays on men’s tours and the heartbreak of multiple injuries.
That someone only 30 has a legacy spanning two decades is remarkable, but Michelle is that rarity, the “it” personality who moves the needle. The world became her Cheers where everyone knows her name. Fans show up or turn on the TV because of her.
I first saw Michelle play at the 2003 ANA Inspiration. A 66 on Saturday – one of only two scores that low all week at Mission Hills – put her in the final group with Annika Sorenstam and winner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.
With eight holes left, Michelle was only one back when a three-putt par from 15 feet on the par-5 11th hole rattled her and she bogeyed four of the next five holes, an indication of her inexperience.
But her skill was unquestioned. The rhythm of her swing and prodigious power left many LPGA stars saying a Tour victory that year would not be surprising.
For the week, Michelle averaged 286.2 yards off the tee, 34.6 yards per drive longer than Meunier-Lebouc.
She also impressed with her composure.
“It was great playing with Annika and Patricia, they're really great players, it was a pleasure playing with them,” she said after the final round.
When asked if she knew how she stood on the back nine, she said:
“I'm always aware of where I am. And I wasn't really nervous. I have to make a lot more birdies to catch up with them, because I knew they'd make birdies, too. I had a chance to eagle on No. 11, and I three-putted, that just brought me down.”
As much as her talent, Michelle’s composure also impressed that week.
“I think the most memorable part of today was playing in the last group on the last day,” she said, finally sounding like a 13 year old. “So, it was pretty exciting. I couldn't really imagine myself being there this year. But it was pretty cool.”
In 2007, Michelle fell while jogging early in the year but tried to play through wrist pain. The result was a bunch of withdrawals and missed cuts and the beginning of a series of injuries that would plague her career.
Her life took on a dimension beyond golf that fall when she enrolled at Stanford. Her most successful season was in 2014 when she won the LOTTE Championship in April and the U.S. Women’s Open in June.
In between those wins, we chatted at the Swinging Skirts Classic at Lake Merced near San Francisco,
“As I get older, I’ve come to realize how much I love the game and how lucky I am to be doing this,” she said. “I’ve come to realize that even when I am having a bad day, how bad can it be when you are looking at this,” she said, gesturing to the stunning views.
“College changes everyone,” she said about Stanford. “I went in there not knowing who I am, really. I met a lot of great people there, people who really inspired me. Getting my education was really important to me. It gave me a lot of confidence that I can do things on my own.”
Now, on her Instagram bio, she describes herself first as “Makenna’s Mom” then as a “Stanford Grad.” After that come the five LPGA wins, one major, five Solheim Cups and a UL International Crown as well as her activity for proper nutrition and against racism.
Michelle Wie by-the-numbers tells one story; Michelle Wie West with babe in arms tells another. From a 12-year-old pioneer to a 30-year-old parent, it is a road well-traveled – the journey of a true champion, no matter how you add it up.