Tour and News

In a rare interview, 20-year-old Michelle Wie reveals how she bounced back in 2009 to reclaim a future that looks brighter than ever

Photo: Jeff Newton

"I was really naive. I had it too easy. It was almost a dreamland. Then it all came crashing down."

"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.

Your toughest year was 2007. You broke your wrist. You withdrew from several events. You looked like you were miserable. Your coach David Leadbetter said, 'Michelle couldn't have cared less if she'd never played again.' True?
There were times when it would have been fine if I didn't play again. It hurt so much. [The wrist injury] was dragging on forever. I felt like I would never get better. I would feel that way, and the next day I would want to go at it again. There was no way I was ever going to give it up. I didn't want to go down this way. It was not the way I wanted this to end. I had goals. I'm not a person who gives up. So I fought through it. The low points were low. My wrist was broken, but I was determined not to let it break me.

What was the lowest low point?
I don't remember.

What do you mean?
I don't remember a lot from that time [nervous laugh]. I think I've blocked it out.

You mean you don't dwell on it, or you literally don't remember?
I literally do not remember a lot of things from that time.

You mean entire tournaments?
Just in general. I don't remember a lot of things.

Because it was so traumatic?
Yeah, it was a lot more traumatic for me than people think.

Why? When was it most traumatic?
I can't remember. I literally can't. I don't remember. It all blurs together. The year [2007] feels like it was a really short time.

You said something at a press conference at the 2007 U.S. Women's Open that was very revealing. Do you remember that tournament?
Not really.

It was at Pine Needles [in North Carolina].
I don't remember where it was played.

At a press conference before the first round, you were asked if playing with an injured wrist was a smart move. You said, 'Come on, this is the U.S. freaking Open.' You shot 82 and ended up withdrawing. But the fact that you played showed heart.
Oh yeah, I do remember that. I was determined not to miss the U.S. Open for anything. Now that I look at that, it doesn't make sense, because there are gonna be so many more U.S. Opens. But at that time, everything felt so important, and I did not want to miss any of it. It was the U.S. freaking Open.

That May, you withdrew from the Ginn Tribute under controversial circumstances. Annika Sorenstam, the event's host, said you showed a 'lack of respect and class.' Have you ever spoken with her about it?
No.

Did you ever feel a need to?
I actually don't remember. What happened?

You were in danger of posting an 88 in the first round, which would have made you ineligible to play LPGA events for the rest of the year. You withdrew after 16 holes, citing your wrist injury. Two days later, you were seen hitting balls. Critics wondered if you used your wrist as an excuse so that you wouldn't have to submit a score.
I have no comment about that because I really don't remember.

None of it?
I kinda do, but I don't want to say anything false. I don't need to rehash that. I don't want to say anything false because I don't remember.

To be clear, you haven't spoken with Annika since then?
I don't think so, no. I think we're over it. We're past that.

Playing PGA Tour events, LPGA events, going to school — looking back, did you have too much on your plate?
No, I don't think so. My life would be different if I hadn't fallen down. But life happens. Things explode. There are "what ifs," but I'm living my life, and I'm very content. I feel like I'm on the way back. I'm on the up-climb and will do everything I can to keep improving.

The last PGA Tour event you played was in 2008. Will you ever try to tee it up with the guys again?
I realized, OK, I'm not ready for it now — I'll focus on something else. Will I try again? I don't worry about future questions. When I was younger, I spent so much time talking about the future. I want to worry about now, what makes me happy now. Thinking too far in advance about things you can't control is pointless.

A hypothetical: A teenage girl comes to you for advice. She wants to conquer the world — to play the LPGA, the PGA Tour, the Masters. What do you tell her?
I would say, "Have a thick skin. There will be a backlash." Also, I see a lot of girls being home-schooled, not getting [a formal] education. That worries me. College is an important growing experience. People say I didn't have a normal life growing up, but I did. I went to a regular high school. My advice would be to find a balance. If you want to conquer the world, enjoy it.

Speaking of education, is it true that when you were in grade school your dad had you memorize pages in the dictionary?
[Laughs.] Yeah, that was fun. Every day on the way to school, I would rip out a page from the dictionary and had to learn every single word. I pulled my first all-nighter when I was in fourth grade.

What's your relationship like with your parents? The perception is that they're too controlling.
Our relationship is normal. We're very close, and I love having them around. They're so supportive. My dad and I bicker. We're too similar. We clash. Obviously, they drive me up the wall, like any parents would. There will come a day when it's just me, my manager, and my caddie. But it's not time for me right now to go out on my own. It's a brutal, tough world, and I feel fortunate that I have two people who will love me no matter what. So I'll keep them around for a while.

OK, miscellaneous questions. What wakes you up in the middle of the night — not counting term papers?
Bad dreams. I watch horror movies at night. I've been having these dreams where people are killing me. A serial killer is after me, a different person every night. I have bizarre dreams. I have golf dreams. I'm late for my tee time, but someone's stopping me. Or, here's a good one: I'm chipping onto a green, but the green's made of glass. I hit it, it rolls over. Hit it again, rolls over. I chip it soft, it comes back. It's pretty annoying.

What's your biggest pet peeve?
When I'm eating and people shove their camera phones in my face and take a picture. Or when they act like they're saying hi — "Michelle, hi!" — and I turn, and they snap a picture. I'm like, "You weren't saying hi. It was a trick!" I have this surprised expression. Just ask. I'm human.

Do you ever think, I have millions. Why bother studying?
There are times when I'm, like, "Really? I have to do this?" But I won't half-ass it. My worst nightmare is that people say, "She can play golf, but does she have brains?" I want to do well.

What's the biggest myth about Michelle Wie?
People think I'm controlling, cold.

Tell them something they don't know about you.
I love spray-painting.

You mean subway cars? You can get in trouble for that.
[Laughs.] I wish. No, I love spray-painting cardboard boxes. I love art, artistic endeavors.

You like art. You're great at golf. What are you terrible at?
Karaoke. I'm so bad. I sang "Dancing Queen" once. It's a high-pitched song, and it was me screeching. I love '90s pop: Britney, 'N Sync.

One more quote from your past: When you were 14, you said, 'Being famous is pretty cool. Like I went to this restaurant, and they gave me free dessert.' Is being famous still cool?
[Laughs.] My god, I sound so young. I still get free ice cream from time to time, and it's quite delicious. Being famous has its perks.

Do you ever wish you were someone else?
Sometimes. But it's hard to disguise — there aren't a lot of six-foot-tall Asians walking around out there.

 

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