"Wowwwww... never thought this would feel THIS great!!!!"
That's what a cerveza-soaked Michelle Wie Twitteredmoments after her first professional win at the LPGA's Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico, in November.
"Wowwwww" is right. For Wie, 20, the victory was six years in the making, her first since winning the Women's Amateur Public Links at the bubblegum-popping age of 13. Since then, Wie has seen sublime highs (shooting a 68 on the PGA Tour) and desperate lows (injuries, DQ's, leaving a tournament on a stretcher). On a fall afternoon in the clubhouse at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., the Big Wiesy — in a baggy gray Stanford University sweatshirt, a kitschy turtle-shaped ring on her hand — was still beaming from her Big Win.
Under the guidance of father B.J. and mother Bo, Wie has given few in-depth interviews. That's too bad. She's smart, silly, sarcastic, and speaks from the heart — when her memory allows. Wie says she has repressed the darkest moments: "I had it easy early on. Then it all came crashing down."
Congratulations on your first pro win. You said it was everything you thought it would be. How was it different than you thought?
I'd always planned this extravagant, Tiger-like reaction — fist pumps, jumping around. But I froze [laughs]. I just put my hand over my mouth and was, like, "Umm, this would be the time to do something crazy." I was too overwhelmed. Tears were coming down.
Describe the feeling of winning.
Relief. And puuuuure happiness. I did it. All the hard work paid off. I realize I want to do it — win — over and over. The feeling is awesome. It made me even more motivated.
Mexico's drinking age is 18. How many Coronas did you have Sunday night?
[Laughs.] None. But I did get a beer shower on the green [from fellow pro Morgan Pressel].
Were you fighting your nerves Sunday morning?
I wasn't thinking about winning. I was thinking, Get through this day. I was really sick. I had a fever. I had thrown up that morning. I broke out in hives. My ankle bothered me. And I had a research paper to do that morning. I was paired with Cristie [Kerr]. We're close. I got nervous, excited, all these emotions. She gave me a pat [while on the 18th fairway] and said, "You can do this."
You led Paula Creamer by a stroke on the last hole, but your second shot on the par-5 18th found a greenside bunker. You're one good shot away from your first pro win. What went through your mind over the ball?
I was thinking, It would be really embarrassing if I hit someone in the crowd in the head. I could see myself on a sports bloopers show. I had a choice: hit a safe 60-degree [wedge] to the middle of the green, or a trickier running shot [with less spin] with my 56-degree. When I don't pull off the 56-degree shot, I chunk it or skull it. I went with the 56 — the ballsier move. I'm proud of that. I hit it to four inches. But that putt [for the win] was pressure. It felt a lot longer than four inches. Over the ball, I was shaking, thinking, Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.
That was your first win in six years. Your parents were just off the green, right?
The three of us were absolutely ecstatic. Then I called David [Leadbetter, Wie's longtime swing coach]. He said, "Well, it took you long enough." Hey, thanks a lot, Lead.
Earlier in the year, you were the star of the Solheim Cup, going 3-0-1 for Team USA. Would you have won in Mexico without that experience?
Mexico was a walk in the park compared to the Solheim Cup. It prepared me for high pressure. You represent yourself, your team, your country. Every putt and shot means so much. I loved it. The intensity! You have your face paint on, your tattoos. It's so quiet standing over a shot. You can hear crickets. Then you make a shot, and there's an explosion. The crowds go crazy. I can't imagine my life without that experience. Golf is lonely. You're out there by yourself, playing for you. It's different with teammates. We'd go putt after dinner and blast music on the greens. Golf should be a team sport.
Can you explain the booty-slapping that you and Christina Kim were doing?
[With a straight face] Oh, I've been doing that since I was 13. No, it was the electricity of the moment. Christina and I had this funny handshake where you fist bump [extends her right fist and gives a bump], and then you make it rain [flutters her fingers]. It's corny! We're just big dorks.
When was the Solheim Cup pressure the most intense?
The final day, the final match [in singles]. From the first tee, it was just pressure, pressure, pressure. You're on your own, and you're, like, [looks left and right] "Umm, where is everybody? Where are my teammates?" Helen [Alfredsson] played so well! I knew I couldn't make any mistakes. On the second hole, she stuck it to four feet for eagle. I thought, Oh, so this is how it's gonna be. I said to myself, "Be aggressive. Make the crowd go crazy." I put it to three feet. I was excited to show my game, to show what I've got — to try to be cool.
Given all you've been through in recent years — wrist injuries, Rules infractions, being DQ'd from events — did 2009 taste even sweeter?
I appreciate the ups more now. I was fortunate early on in my career. I had it easy. It was a dreamland. Everything turned out fine. Then it all came crashing down. The work to get back was not easy. It definitely makes me appreciate things more. Because I went through so much, it's hard to get me down. I'm a lot stronger. Mexico and the Solheim Cup were delicious.
Why do you think it all came crashing down?
I think my wrist injury was the worst thing that could have happened. I was running [in January 2007] when I fell and broke three bones in my left wrist. It was a freak accident. Maybe I shouldn't have played, but I was stubborn. Now I know that playing through an injury is not smart. The turning point was becoming healthy. It took about two years. Around May [of 2009] my wrist finally started feeling 100 percent. There are a lot of bones in there.
Wasn't another turning point the 2008 State Farm Classic? You were DQ'd for signing an incorrect scorecard. That cost you a big check.
That was a blessing in disguise because [with that prize money] I might have gotten an [LPGA Tour] exemption through the money list. Instead, I had to go to Q School. I didn't want to, but I had to. It built a lot of character getting my LPGA card the hardest way. That way was cool and satisfying.
You're 20. When you were 14, you told Sports Illustrated, 'Everyone is saying that your teenage years are really hard, but they're actually really easy.' Would you like to amend that comment?
Wow. I was really naive. Life was easy back then. I had good friends, was healthy, liked what I was doing. Then I went through a really tough period and grew from it. I made mistakes. But I've learned from them. I've become more grown up.