Hawaiian Michelle Wie is one the LPGA's most recognized stars. She rose to fame at an early age, qualifying for a USGA amateur championship at 10 and turning pro just before turning 16. The 2014 U.S. Women's Open champion has struggled on and off with injury, but a new swing and fresh outlook has the four-time LPGA winner looking ahead to a brighter future on tour. The 26-year-old opens up about her role in getting golf back into the Olympics, chipping with Tiger, and marching to the beat of her own drum.
You struggled on tour last season. What was that like, dealing on and off with injuries?
It was definitely disappointing last year, I was really struggling with a lot of injuries just didn’t feel healthy. This off-season I really took time off to get healthy and my body feeling good. A lot of lessons learned that I’m definitely going to use this year.
Is there something specific you worked on in the off-season with your coach, David Leadbetter?
I spent a lot of time with my short game and putting. I probably spent 4-5 hours every day just putting and chipping. But [I made] a couple swing changes. We’re just trying to get my swing back, more fluid, and natural, definitely less pressure on my body. We had a long sit-down talk about it and the game plan moving forward. It definitely is different. It’s feeling a lot better. My body is thanking me for it. And for the longevity of my game I had to do it.
Despite a tough season, Team USA did bring the Solheim Cup back. What was that like?
Oh my gosh, it was pretty incredible. We were losing pretty badly. You always have that feeling when you know, ‘We can do this, we can win this.’ But you know, it was such a big come back, so many things had to fall into place. I remember winning my match and then kinda going out to see [Angela] Stanford play, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ We were counting the points in our heads and we were like, ‘Wait a second, there’s an actual chance we can win this thing.’ And it actually did happen! It was insane.
You won’t get to compete, but you were very involved in golf’s big return to the Olympics.
It’s amazing. I remember I went with Suzanne Pettersen, Matteo Manassero, and Padraig Harrington, and we went to the IOC committee and we presented to get golf into the Olympics. That was a huge win for golf. I think you’re going to see a lot of developing countries that aren’t so prevalent in golf become more prevalent in golf, and to have the sport in the Olympics means everything to us as professional golfers. Even to have that chance means everything to me.
So: Solheim Cup, gold medal or major win?
I would choose a gold medal. In a heartbeat. I think it’s always been a dream of mine. Solheim really touches upon that, playing for your country. The Olympics…I’ve been there to watch it but I could only imagine the pride that you would feel representing America. It would be a dream come true.
You had an interesting chipping lesson a few months back. What was that like, practicing with Tiger Woods?
It was pretty cool, he asked me last minute to help him out with a clinic. We met up and were talking around. And I think you can tell he’s ready to get back out there. We were talking about our injuries so I know how he feels. But it was pretty cool working with him in the clinic and talking about the game. He’s definitely the best player out there. It was awesome.
How does someone like you, as a standout golfer and personality, help to grow the game and bring more eyes to women’s golf?
You know, that’s hard. I’ve talked a lot about this with my friend Hally Leadbetter. She’s an aspiring TV personality. She’s really passionate—we’re both really passionate about making golf bigger to more than just golfers, bringing it to people who don’t play golf. Rickie Fowler does a really, really good job of that. People who don’t play golf know who Rickie is and he makes the game cool. We’re always trying to find ways to make the game fun. Junior golf is where it’s at. If the junior golf game is strong, then our future is safe. It’s always trying to find ways to make golf cool, to show people how fun it is and to break all stereotypes.
Rainbow hair, high tops, is that your way of saying golf is cool?
Golf is such a stereotype. You know, oh those country club folk with their khakis. [Laughs] With my crazy hair and my high tops and stuff, it’s not like, ‘Hey I’m trying to be different,’ it’s just who I am. I’m not the regular mold of a golfer. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is. I think that’s what people are starting to realize, which is cool.
What’s something people don’t know about being a professional golfer?
It’s hard. People think life on the road is glamorous, that life is easy. It’s not easy. It’s lonely, you’re missing home at all times…but it’s fun. It’s a grind, but it’s definitely worth it, it’s rewarding.
What’s one thing you would take away from your time on the LPGA?
One thing I would take away from my years on tour is never take anything for granted. I think everything comes in waves, you have your ups and downs, and in the beginning, I just saw everything going on this visual upgrade: ‘Oh my life is going to be great, it’s going to be easy.’ But there are hardships that come with being a professional, just as in life. You can’t take anything for granted: Your health, your friends, your family, your game, just to be grateful for everything. That’s what I learned and how I feel. Just be grateful for everything.