Michelle Wie West Continues to Inspire On and Off the Golf Course

There are players who make an impact and then there are players who leave a legacy.

The former is happy with the headlines, the trophies, the crazed fans dying to get their signature on a hat or pin flag or golf ball. They are content to come and go through the revolving door of professional golf, only leaving a lasting mark on the metal on which their names are engraved, eventually becoming just a story in the cacophony of history, a bit of ink in a dusty, old record book.

But the latter strives for more, works for more, pushes for more. They know that professional golf is fleeting and that a career can easily be stripped away by injury or inadequacy, sometimes both. They know that what they do away from the course is much more important than what they do on it. They understand that it’s their duty to leave things way better than they found them.

Michelle Wie West is the latter.

14 year-old Michelle Wie talks with Paul Azinger during the First Hawaiian Bank Pro Junior Golf Challenge of the Sony Open on January 13, 2004 at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.

The Hawaii native stormed onto the scene in the early 2000s, quickly making her presence known in the golf world as a pre-teen, qualifying and making the cut in LPGA Tour events, one of which was The Chevron Championship in 2003, and winning prestigious USGA tournaments like the 2003 Women’s Amateur Public Links. A sponsor exemption into the 2004 Sony Open thrust the then 14-year-old Wie West even further into the spotlight and the wunderkind lore only grew when she fired a second-round 68, only missing the cut by one and beating a handful of the PGA Tour’s best.

Wie West turned professional in 2005, playing a mixed bag of events on the LPGA Tour, PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Asian Tour, and first earned LPGA Tour membership for the 2009 after finishing in a tie for seventh at the 2008 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. She became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November of her rookie season, but she had long before caught the eye of that year’s Solheim Cup captain, 33-time LPGA Tour winner Beth Daniel.

My first impression was that this person is mighty talented and she's a really nice person,” said Daniel. “I don't think the media portrayed her very well. There was just the stigma about her coming out on Tour so young and everybody's like, ‘Oh, she's doing it the wrong way.’ Well, she did it the way she wanted to do it.

“She's always just been such a nice kid. I still call her a kid because like younger me, and she was very respectful of, you know, me being a veteran player. But I was super impressed with her and I'm like, she has endless talent.”

Daniel would ultimately select Wie West as a captain’s pick for the 2009 United States Solheim Cup team. It was a choice that a lot of people questioned, but the decision ended up being the right one as Wie West went undefeated at Rich Harvest Farms, earning a 3-0-1 record to help the United States to victory.

“There were people that told me, ‘Don't pick her, she gets everything.’ And I'm like, ‘I'm trying to pick the best person for the team.’ Michelle was the best person for the team,” Daniel said. “First of all, she was playing really well going into it and then secondly, she's incredible in match-play.

Michelle Wie of the United States is sprayed with champagne after the final round of the 69th U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Course No. 2 on June 22, 2014 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

“And she eagled the second hole twice during the matches, and there were players that couldn't reach that second hole. It was a long golf course. So it was kind of a no-brainer pick. She's just likable. She's fun, everybody wanted to be around her. She just had a great kind of magnetic personality and I think that's what drew the general public to her.”

Two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Meg Mallon remembers just how much interest Wie West generated in women’s golf and the LPGA Tour in her early years as a member of the organization. When she first arrived on the golf scene, the young phenom was often compared to Tiger Woods, a big compliment but also a challenging analogy that came with a litany of expectations to live up to, and Mallon sympathized with that.

“As far as being called the next Tiger, that's a very difficult thing to do to anybody when they're 14 years old,” said Mallon. “That expectation level goes up for everybody so no matter what you do, it's not good enough.

“No, she probably didn't have the career that she imagined she'd have but she also didn't imagine having all those injuries either and having to fight through a lot. With that being said, she did well in spite of the injuries and also brought a lot to the Tour as far as outside interest. People that never would have watched the game, watched the game because of her. We should all be grateful for that.”

While it wasn’t the 50-plus wins and 10 major titles that everyone had seemingly scripted for her career, Wie West still had a lot of success during the peak of her playing days. She won five times on the LPGA Tour, including the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, and recorded 44 additional top-10 finishes throughout the course of her career. Her final putt at that Women’s Open is a moment that will forever be iconic, an accomplishment that was a huge source of inspiration for the next generation of Asian-Americans aspiring to play professional golf, for players like 2022 Portland Classic winner Andrea Lee.

“(Michelle is) a major champion. She won the U.S. Women's Open at one of the most prestigious courses in the country at Pinehurst, and I think that in itself is the most incredible accomplishment, considering all the pressures and expectations that were placed upon her from the get-go when she was like 13-14 years old,” Lee said, who now counts Wie West as a friend and mentor. “I think she's had a very, very impactful career. And you know, she's grown the game so much, and she's inspired young golfers like me.

“She was her own person, too. I feel like the Korean culture can be very much like, don't stand out too much, or they try to be very, very respectful, which is a good thing. But Michelle kind of broke the barriers and the stigma surrounding Asian women and how we're always quiet. And she was this very determined, strong and fierce woman athlete, and I think that is a part of her a lot of young Asian American golfers have looked up to.

“I feel like she gave a lot of power to Asian-American, young golfers around the world.”

Another young Korean-American that Wie West has inspired is her fellow Hawaiian, Allisen Corpuz. As an amateur, Corpuz broke a few of the youngest-ever records that her older counterpart set, becoming the youngest qualifier in the now-defunct Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2008 at 10 years, 3 months and 9 days old.

Now in her second season on the LPGA Tour, Corpuz has made some early noise, recording four career top-four finishes in the last 17 months, and while she’d like to emulate Wie West in winning tournaments and major championships of her own, the 25-year-old is more impressed in what she continues to do for women’s golf.

“She’s obviously just such a huge inspiration for any Hawaii golfer that's up-and-coming. I saw her amateur career when I was really young and saw her transition to playing professional golf. I was really, really excited when she won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst and when she won the LOTTE (Championship) as well out at Ko Olina.

Michelle wie and Paula Creamer encourage fellow team members on the 18th hole during the Sunday singles matches at the 2009 Solheim Cup Matches, at the Rich Harvest Farms Golf Club on August 23, 2009 in Sugar Grove, Ilinois

“She’s done so much for women's golf, bringing a lot of attention from being so young and in the spotlight and watching her handle all that has been really impressive. She actually sponsored the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association, our Tournament of Champions. It just means a lot to have her giving back to the community, both our junior community and now the LPGA. It’s really cool to see her in that role.”

As tournament host this week at the Mizuho Americas Open, Wie West is giving back in an entirely new way, putting on an event at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. that will feature 120 LPGA Tour players teeing it up alongside 24 AJGA junior players in the same event for the very first time. While different formats will be played with the amateurs in a Stableford competition and the pros in their standard stroke-play tournament, the event blends the present and the future in a way that’s never been done before.

On top of that, Wie West has brought in high-level sponsors for the player gifts and Mizuho has covered all player accommodations at the Conrad in downtown New York City, another incredible first that will really make an impact for the LPGA Tour’s best.

Rose Zhang, who is making her professional debut this week at the Mizuho Americas Open, cited Wie West’s influence on the event and its unique format as two of the biggest reasons why she wanted to tee it up in Jersey City. “Michelle is just incredible. She's been an incredible name for the game of golf, women's golf, and she's just an exciting person to be around,” Zhang said. “It's such a special event and this is the first time that the AJGA and the LPGA are together playing the same course. Being at Liberty National there is a lot of history here. So there were so many factors that made me want to come out here and start my pro debut.”

On this last day of Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with the Mizuho Americas Open set to begin tomorrow, it seems like no better time or place for Wie West to be hosting her inaugural event, one that’s clearly making a lasting impact on the present and future of women’s golf, inspiring the current and next generations as they work to chase their dreams.

It’s also a testament to the fact that Wie West is a player who wants to leave a legacy. And it seems that she already has.