SUGAR GROVE, Ill.(AP) This was the Michelle Wie everyone was waiting to see.
Freed up by the support of her teammates, Wie played with the skill, confidence and daring that has long been expected of her. She went 3-0-1 in her Solheim Cup debut – the best performance by any American – and looks primed to finally deliver on her considerable promise.
“People have seen a different side of me,” Wie said after her tough, 1-up victory over former Europe captain Helen Alfredsson on Sunday. “It’s just been a lot of fun. There’s nothing to describe it. … This week in general has given me such a confidence boost.”
Wie has been saddled since grade school with the burden of being the female equivalent of Tiger Woods. She can outdrive some men – she launched a 305-yarder on one par-5 Sunday, leaving her an 8-iron to the green – and won the Women’s Amateur Public Links at 13, making her the youngest winner of a USGA championship for adults. She teed it up with the men, and was in contention for major championships long before she had her driver’s license.
But at 19, the LPGA Tour rookie is still looking for her first professional victory. Injuries and other missteps had some wondering if she would eventually find her stride or be the latest phenom to flame out.
Based on this week, it’s not even a question.
“I would bet you a large amount of money that Michelle will win before the year is out,” Juli Inkster said after the Americans won their third straight Solheim Cup with a 16-12 decision over Europe.
That’s a bold statement, but few who saw Wie at Rich Harvest Farms would bet against it.
Wie drew one of the toughest assignments Sunday. Not only was she the third American out, she was playing Alfredsson. And on the par-5 No. 2, Alfredsson let Wie know this wasn’t going to be a gimme, putting her second shot four feet from the pin.
Not to be outdone, Wie hit to three feet.
“I think that second shot was the best shot I’ve ever hit. Ever,” Wie said as a few teammates nodded their heads. “I gave myself a little pat on the back, I wasn’t ashamed to do that.”
That eagle set the tone, and Wie was up 3 after six holes. But Alfredsson capitalized on Wie’s poor tee shot on the eighth hole, and the match was squared after the 11th hole.
“Helen just played fantastic in a couple of holes,” Wie said. “She played great the whole day. It was tough, I had to pull some stuff on her.”
Like a monstrous drive.
Wie’s drive on the par-5 15th was so long – 305 yards, to be exact – she needed only an 8-iron to reach the green in two. Yes, an 8-iron. She two-putted from 20 feet for the birdie and the lead.
“I’m 44, I don’t hit it that far anymore. I never did, actually,” Alfredsson said.
Alfredsson hit a bad tee shot on 16, a par 3, allowing Wie to pick up another hole and guarantee that, at worst, she’d get a half-point out of the match.
She lost the 17th hole, and was so amped up after another bomb on 18 that she started walking as soon as she hit it, leaving her tee stuck in the box. She hit her approach to 25 feet below the hole, and left it 2 feet short. Alfredsson’s 35-foot eagle putt was short, too, and Wie tapped in to win the match.
“Michelle was playing so well that it was just hard not to pick her,” said U.S. captain Beth Daniel, who used one of her two picks on Wie. “And she has continued that good play this week.”
Equally impressive has been her attitude. Though Wie lets loose with the occasional fist pump, she often comes across as aloof or reserved.
Not this week.
She may not ever be as energetic as Christina Kim – then again, who is? – but she was animated from the minute she walked onto the first tee Friday morning. She yelled and pumped her fist after big shots, even ran forward when she thought a key putt was going in.
When she and Kim won their fourball match Saturday, it was Wie who turned to the crowd and cupped her hand to her ear, asking for more noise. She laughed when fans gave her her own cheer, a loud “Wheee!”
And when the Americans had clinched their victory Sunday, she grabbed a big American flag and ran around the 18th green.
“I feel like I played great this week, and hopefully that will carry over,” Wie said. “But you never know about golf. You can have a good week, you can have a bad week. But I know I had fun this week. I know I tried my hardest.”