Michelle Wie West Returns To Competition
She finally admitted what those of us who were there suspected all along. When Michelle Wie West walked onto the patio at Hazeltine National on Friday of the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, you could see it in her teary eyes and hear it in her cracking voice.
She was done.
The wrist injury, one of the many that beset the former U.S. Women’s Open champion, seemed like a last straw. She had played with more tape than a Final Four basketball team, worn more braces than an offensive lineman, and adjusted her swing more times to accommodate her body than anyone could count only to endure one frustration after another. She didn’t say at the time or in the almost two years after. But when she walked toward her courtesy car on that sunny Minneapolis afternoon, everyone thought it was the last time they would see Michelle in competition.
On Wednesday at Aviara, a day before the opening round of the Kia Classic, Wie West admitted as much.
“I thought I was done, to be honest,” Wie West said. “After KPMG in 2019 I thought I was done, especially when I found out I was pregnant later that year. I thought that cemented it. I thought there was no chance of coming back. And I told my husband that. He was like, ‘No, no, just think it through.’”
Wie West’s husband is Jonnie West, the director of basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors and son of legendary NBA star Jerry West. It’s ironic that Michelle’s father-in-law is the model for the NBA logo since most people assume Michelle’s statuesque finish was the inspiration behind the LPGA logo. They are a star-studded family of down-to-earth people, the kind you would feel just as good about having over to your house for dinner as you would having them sit beside you courtside during a playoff game.
Wie West is back inside the ropes now, not despite her pregnancy, but because of it.
“We found out that Makenna was going to be a girl and that just changed my perspective on everything,” Wie West said. “It was crazy how just that one little fact changed everything.
“That’s when I started to think, ‘You know, I kind of want to (play again). I want to show (my daughter) in real time that I can, that I play golf. It's one thing to have her watch YouTube videos. It's another thing to have her watch me with her own eyes. Seeing me go out there, work at it hard, and try to lead by example.
“That moment that Tiger had with Charlie (in the PNC Championship), that is the first thing that popped into my mind. That's been a huge motivation and that's been a new dream of mine.”
Things are certainly different now. The Wednesday pro-am in Carlsbad was one of the longest times Wie West has been away from Makenna since she was born. Rarely does the clock hit two hours without the mom holding her daughter. Wie West’s preparation for this return has revolved around Makenna’s schedule. “Rarely is it more than two hours of work,” she said. “So, it’s really focused.”
The Wests are members at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, just outside San Francisco, and Michelle still practices at her alma mater, Stanford University, which has one of the finest college golf courses and practice facilities in the world.
She has other interests as well. In addition to serving on the LPGA board of directors, Wie West have made quite a name for herself in television circles. Last year, she provided color commentary during Golf Channel’s coverage of The Masters and she has surprised a lot of people with her quick mind, deep insight and poised on-air presence.
But she wants everyone to know that her comeback on the course is not an audition for a television gig.
“It's something that I really enjoy doing and hopefully will have the opportunity to do more in the future,” she said. “Like I told the networks and my agent, playing is my first priority. I'm going to do that as long as I can.
Maybe I'll sprinkle in a week or two (of television). I'll see if there are weeks TV can fit. That's something I want to do in the future but right now, playing is definitely my focus.
She is also one of Pat Hurst’s assistant captains for this year’s Solheim Cup team, a job she has wrapped herself in like a fleece blanket.
“It's been so much fun seeing Angela (Stanford, the other assistant captain),” Wie West said. “We've been on so many Zoom calls and phone calls that it's fun to see her in person. I haven't seen Pat yet. But we're scheduled to meet later to go over some Solheim stuff.
“It's been so much fun, the three of us on Zoom. We always have a glass of wine in hand, so it's always fun to chat, catch up, and talk logistics. I felt like I haven't been much help being out seeing the girls. So, it's been really great being able to chat to a lot of the rookies on the range. Hopefully I'll get to see some players, American players, this week and be able to contribute a little bit more in that aspect.”
After this week and next (she is in the field at the ANA Inspiration), Wie West isn’t sure what the future holds. She’ll likely play in Los Angeles at the HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open and things would have to go sideways for her not to play in the U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club, 15 minutes from her house, and at her home club, Lake Merced, in the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship the following week. Beyond that, in her words, “it’s week to week.”
But you also get the sense that, as anxious and nervous as she is to be back, this is a different Michelle. The scores, good and bad, won’t be as consuming. She will no longer live or die by the numbers on a card.
She can’t. There’s a little girl waiting for her after every round, along with a husband who adores her, and some Solheim Cup hopefuls who will be looking to impress.
This is the new Michelle Wie West. And it’s impossible not to like what you see.