Few in women’s golf have moved the needle as much as Michelle Wie. Even casual fans know of the long-hitting teenage amateur from Hawaii who went toe-to-toe with professional men. Now, the one-time wunderkind is on the brink of motherhood, a twist in her career path that has given Wie a new goal: Having her daughter see Mom play an LPGA Tour event.
And if Wie could manage a victory in one of the LPGA major championships after her return from maternity leave, she would join the extremely small group of players who won a major after giving birth. Only Nancy Lopez, Juli Inkster and Catriona Matthew come to mind as members of that exclusive club.
“I really look up to mothers on our tour, people like Juli and Catriona, and newer mothers like Stacy [Lewis] and Gerina [Piller],” Wie, who married Jonnie West in August, said Friday in a conference call with reporters.
As for her immediate competitive plans Wie, who is due this summer, said: “I am going to take maternity leave, but I can still play as many tournaments as I want. Ideally, I would like that experience of playing while pregnant.”
How many events she plays will be determined by how she feels but she is already thinking of what life will be like with a daughter, which she knows her child is.
“I really want her to see me play and see me as a strong woman,” Wie said. “It has been an amazing journey so far. We have been totally blessed. I’ve always wanted kids, especially being an only child I’ve always liked the idea of having a big family.”
Wie, who has five LPGA wins including at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, has followed a pioneering path. In addition to being a role model for women challenging men, she’s earned a degree from Stanford University, done broadcast work for Golf Channel and in April will be part of the CBS Sports team during its broadcast of the Masters.
For two-thirds of her life, Wie has lived on a very public stage. In 2000 – at the age pf 10 – she became the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, a tournament she won in 2003 when, at 13, she became its youngest winner. That same year she finished tied for 9th at the ANA Inspiration.
In 2006, when she was 16, Wie finished in the top-5 in three LPGA majors. But the next year she fell while jogging – the first in a cascade of injuries that’s has hampered her career. In 2008 she earned her LPGA Tour card at Q school and won her first professional event at the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational
Wie won twice in 2014, including the Women’s Open at Pinehurst No.2 when she followed a double bogey on the 16th hole of the final round with a birdie-par finish to take the biggest title of her career.
Last year injuries returned, this time to her right wrist. Her last event was the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship when she tearfully wondered how many more tournaments her body had left in it.
Ironically, that injury led her to evaluate where she stood on life’s road and exactly where she wants that path to take her.
“Before I was injured, it was all I was doing – traveling 30 weeks out of the year,” she said. “But I really believe my injuries came at a special time for me, when I could be home and live a normal life. I’ve seen some doctors and they think the extra time [off] will be amazing for me,” she said.
Her seemingly endless battle with injuries have taken an emotional toll as well.
“The amount of pain I was in last year, there were a lot of times when I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “It was tough to want to go through that every day. I felt like my mind was there, but my body was completely lagging,” Wie said.
“I think I definitely have PTSD from that,” she said. “It’s nice that I’ve spent some time away to forget it. I think that pain is scarring. There was a moment where when I looked at a golf ball, I was terrified because I knew what that pain [of hitting it] was going to feel like. But with time away, the memory of it is getting less and less. It was really fun hitting balls a few months ago. That was a refreshing place to begin again.”
In 2008, at the age of 38, Annika Sorenstam left competitive golf to start a family. In 2010, at the age of 28, Lorena Ochoa, walked away from the game for the same reason. Neither of those two members of the World Golf Hall of Fame returned to the Tour.
But that’s not how Wie sees her future. Her role models are Lopez, Inkster and Matthew as well as the growing number of Moms who have found that there is life after childbirth on the LPGA.
The one-time wunderkind is looking to return to the LPGA, this time with a kid. And if she can make that happen, all that she has been through will be well worth the struggle.