NAPLES, Fla. >> Michelle Wie has every reason to look at this year as what might have been.
Right when the 6-foot star from Hawaii was finally hitting her stride, yet another injury kept her out of golf for nearly three months. She could only watch as her name slipped from the top of the LPGA Tour money list. When she finally felt healthy enough to try to return, she lost out on the inside track to a $1 million bonus for the winner of the Race to the CME Globe.
So how does she look back on the season?
With a big smile, for starters.
It helps that she won the U.S. Women’s Open, the biggest event in women’s golf and her first major. Not to be forgotten was how she rallied to win the Lotte Championship in April, her first LPGA Tour win in nearly four years that felt even bigger because she won before a home crowd in Hawaii.
So when she was asked Tuesday for one word to describe her season, the 25-year-old bought some time before saying, “Rewarding.”
“The season has been so phenomenal for me,” Wie said. “It boosted my confidence. It kind of showed me what I can do. And obviously, it’s been a tough year for me with injuries, with my knee and my hand and everything. But it’s still rewarding. I can’t complain.”
In one of the best seasons for the LPGA Tour, Wie was a big part of it.
She was runner-up in the Kraft Nabisco Championship to Lexi Thompson, the 19-year-old who hits it a mile. Wie bounced back with a powerful win at Pinehurst No. 2, where she survived a late blunder with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that all but clinched her U.S. Women’s Open title.
Inbee Park won another major on her rise back to No. 1 in her sport. Mo Martin became a popular major champion at the Women’s British Open by showing grit and perseverance can go a lot longer than some of her tee shots.
And as the season ends this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, Park and Stacy Lewis are locked in a tight battle for all the big awards — money title, player of the year and the Race to the CME Globe.
The top three in the points race — Lewis, Park and 17-year-old Lydia Ko — only have to win on the Tiburon Course at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort to capture the $1 million bonus. Along with the $500,000 prize from the tournament, it would be the biggest payoff in women’s golf.
Wie is at No. 4 and still has a reasonable shot at the $1 million. But it’s not like her season would be empty without it.
For the first time, Wie felt like she belonged among the top players in golf.
“I think in the past my mentality has always been that I want to play really well. I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said. “I was talking to (swing coach David) Leadbetter about this and I told him I wanted to play consistent. Whether I’m consistently mediocre or consistently good, I just want to be consistent every week, to go out there and build on it.”
She was consistently good.
In her first 14 events of the season, Wie finished worse than 16th only one time. She put together five straight top-10s — including a victory in Hawaii and a runner-up finish in the first major of the year. Unlike the past, no one had to scroll very far down the leaderboard to find her name.
She headed into the Women’s British Open as the star she always was expected to be. And then her season took another detour, a route she knows all too well.
Wie isn’t sure how or where she injured her right hand. She remembers it getting sore at Royal Birkdale, perhaps because of the firm turf in a dry English summer. She remembers one shot in Ohio a week later from a really bad lie that had her shaking her hand. Before long, she had trouble holding a toothbrush or lifting a fork.
She tried to return to the final major of the year in France and couldn’t make it beyond 13 holes.
Since her return in Asia, she’s right back to where she left off — a pair of top-5s, and pair of top-20s that long ago would have been considered a big success. Wie is practicing less and working out more, building a game for the long run.
Next year will mark the 10-year anniversary of when she turned pro. It already has been a long, twisting road filled with injuries, big endorsement contracts, high expectations and the discipline to be a part-time player while she earned a degree from Stanford.
She looks at this season-ending event as a final exam.
“You want to put everything you learned over the year and kind of go out with a bang, and hopefully play the best golf you played all year,” she said.
If she doesn’t, that won’t change how she looks at her season. Because a big part of her is eager to see what the next few years will bring.
Doug Ferguson, Associated Press