DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — With little fanfare and even less to say, Michelle Wie took an important first step Wednesday toward earning an LPGA Tour card by opening with a 3-under 69 in the 90-hole qualifying tournament.
It was her first competitive round since Sept. 19, when she advanced out of the first stage of Q-school in California.
Playing on the tougher Legends course at LPGA International, the 19-year-old from Hawaii kept it simple during a mild and breezy afternoon on a course where trouble lurks amid marshes and thick palmetto bushes. She hit only four drivers – none on the par 5s – and her only bogey came on a three-putt from 25 feet on the par-5 14th when she was fooled by the speed.
“If there’s anything such as a stress-free round, this is it,” swing coach David Leadbetter said.
Shiho Oyama of Japan led with a 64 on the more open, forgiving Champions course. Wie rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole, her longest putt of the day, and she was tied for sixth with a group that included former NCAA champion Stacy Lewis, who played on the Champions course.
Wie and Audra Burks (69) were the only players to break 70 on the Legends course.
As she did in the first stage, Wie declined to speak to reporters until the tournament is over.
Perhaps the best part of her opening round was that it included no drama. Considering what Wie has gone through over the last two troublesome years, that’s something she could do without.
“Just an easy round of golf,” Leadbetter said.
No one imagined she would ever be at Q-school, not with enough talent to shoot 68 on the PGA Tour at age 14 and contend for LPGA major championships while still in high school in Honolulu.
In some respects, her unlikely journey took root just 30 minutes down the road from LPGA International.
This is Wie’s first competition in this part of Florida since she won the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at Ocean Hammock, becoming at 13 the youngest winner of a USGA championship for adults.
She turned pro a week before her 16th birthday in 2005 and pulled in close to $20 million in endorsement and earnings her first year, becoming one of the biggest stars in women’s golf without having won a tournament. Wie drew the biggest galleries at LPGA Tour events, and even some of the PGA Tour events she played.
But her crash was as spectacular as her rise, and Wie went 14 consecutive tournaments without breaking 70 as she tried to play with wrist injuries and continued to test herself against the men.
Now, she is back to the start, one of 140 players trying to earn a spot on the LPGA Tour. She’s even a part-time college student, enrolling last year at Stanford and bringing books with her to Q-school to study for final exams next week.
But this is far away from the stage where she once drew so much attention.
Wie was announced on the first tee to a smattering of applause from about 75 fans who followed her round. After a good chip to save par on the fourth hole, Wie hit her approach to 2 feet for a birdie on the 366-yard fifth hole, and closed out her front nine with a 10-foot birdie on the ninth.
She missed only four fairways and four greens and had 26 putts, missing four birdie putts inside 12 feet.
Renowned for her power, Wie only hit driver on holes where the fairway was generous, and she played the par 5s as three-shot holes, although she could have reached them all in two with big tee shots.
“The big thing this week is not to make mistakes,” Leadbetter said. “And she only made one today.”
That was on the 14th, when Wie left her birdie putt 5 feet short and the par attempt caught the left edge of the cup. Even so, Leadbetter liked what he saw. The Wie family spent last week in Orlando, where they had Thanksgiving dinner with Leadbetter, and her swing coach was curious how she would respond.
“She looked very comfortable, very composed. She hasn’t played a tournament in a while, so that’s a good sign,” he said. “If she plays anywhere near her potential, this shouldn’t be a problem.”