PINEHURST, N.C. » The sandy soil of this part of the state is famous for the amount of water it can absorb. A cloudburst last Thursday night barely registered by the time the U.S. Open resumed on Pinehurst’s No. 2 course Friday morning.
Over the years, the Sandhills have also been put to the test absorbing Michelle Wie’s tears.
In 2000, playing the Women’s Amateur Public Links at The Legacy as a precocious 10-year-old, Wie recalled "crying all day" during a match-play loss. In 2007, when the Women’s Open came to Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, Wie withdrew midway through the second round clutching an injured wrist, on her way to missing the cut by a mile, sobbing as she walked off the course.
That might have been the lowest point of Wie’s career, the moment when women’s golf’s greatest hope was on the verge of complete collapse. A year earlier, she had been in the top five in three of the year’s four majors. At Pine Needles, it was hard to foresee her ever winning as a pro.
She was a child growing through a very public adolescence, thrust onto a stage for which she had the physical gifts but not yet the mental fortitude. There was no guarantee she’d ever make it back.
Seven years later, Wie is ready to put her bad memories of the Sandhills behind her this week at the Women’s Open. No player has ever come onto the LPGA Tour facing the expectations Wie faced, but at 24 she’s still plenty young enough to fulfill them.
"I really feel like I’m kind of starting the second part of my career," Wie said Tuesday. "It’s fun. It’s a long journey. I think in a golf career, you’re going to have ups, you’re going to have downs. It’s not a short career, it’s a very long career. I’m in it for the long run."
It has already been a long run. Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 women’s player in the world, was 23 when she made her LPGA Tour debut. At that age, Wie had been a professional for more than seven years.
Lewis, like most LPGA players, had only known Wie as an interloper for much of her career, a teenager living inside a bubble carefully managed by her father, B.J., and a team of agents, sponsors and advisers.
Lewis and Wie have become friends only recently, since Wie graduated from Stanford, asserted her independence from her parents and moved near Lewis in Florida. Wie’s game has only blossomed since.
"Since she got out of school and did her own thing, it’s like she’s a different person," Lewis said. "She’s grown up, she’s taken ownership of her game. Her relationship with her parents and her family is so much better. She’s out there calling the shots instead of the other way around. And it’s great to see, because she’s playing golf and she’s having fun with it."
Nothing has been more adult than her play lately. Wie finished second at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the closest yet she has come to winning a major, while she has been consistently competitive on the LPGA Tour this year. Her win in April was the third of her career and her first in almost four years.
"I’m mentally prepared for anything that’s about to happen," Wie said. "I may play great, I may play horribly, but I’m just going to go out there and try my hardest."
If there were ever a time for her to win her first major, to show just how far she has come, it would be a place where she hit some of her roughest spots. The only tears anyone sees from Wie this week might be tears of joy.
Luke DeCock Raleigh News & Observer