Kohler, Wis. – The round of 6-under-par 66 Michelle Wie constructed at the 67th U.S. Women’s Open on Friday was the type loyalists have hoped to see for some time. The doubters will wait to see what she has left for the weekend.
“Yeah, I’m pretty stoked to be back into contention and, honestly, not have to worry about the cut line,” said Wie, who shared second place with Cristie Kerr at 4-under 140, one shot behind Suzann Pettersen, midway through the second round.
A day after shooting a first-round 74 that was in keeping with her struggling season, Wie extracted some bite from Blackwolf Run as her 66 tied for the third-lowest second-round score in championship history. It bettered Wie’s previous best Women’s Open effort by three strokes.
“Nothing really has changed since the beginning of this year,” she said. “I just kind of kept with the same stuff and I felt like it was coming for the last couple of weeks. It’s really nice to see that I kind of put it together today.”
For Wie, 22, of Jupiter, Fla., the round was her lowest of the 2012 season and just her second sub-70 round out of 26. A string of missed cuts (six) in 10 previous starts is the reason for so few rounds played. Her best stroke-play finish was a tie for 38th at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.
Pettersen has not followed the state of Wie’s game other than to know she has struggled, but after shooting a 3-under 69 to move into the lead, Pettersen came to the defense of her friend.
“She's a great player,” Pettersen said. “Michelle is awfully talented and has a lot of game. I think you should give her a break. She just graduated [from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications], four years in college. That's pretty impressive to do that on the sideline of trying to compete out here.
“So now it's obviously a little different world for her. Now it's all about golf, and she has to kind of find her schedule, how to work it out the best way for her.”
Wie’s career has been well chronicled since, at age 10, she became the youngest qualifier for a USGA women’s amateur championship (2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links), a mark that was surpassed four years ago here in Wisconsin by fellow native Hawaiian Allisen Corpuz at the WAPL in nearby Erin Hills. She turned pro in 2005, but didn’t play a full schedule until 2009 when she won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico. She also won the Canadian Women’s Championship in 2010.
Expectations, though, have often exceeded the results.
Wie prefers staying in the moment.
“I can’t really live in the past,” she said. “What I did is what I did, and I’m really looking forward to what I’m going to do tomorrow and Sunday and the future, really.”
Friday’s round can be viewed from the perspective of either sheer brilliance or just plain good fortune. Wie hit one more fairway (nine) and four fewer greens in regulation (11) than in Thursday’s opening round. The difference maker was 11 one-putt greens and a chip-in on the sixth hole.
“I must say playing behind her I don't think I've ever seen her make as many putts as she did today,” said Pettersen of Wie’s 23-putt round. “She was fist‑pumping every putt she looked at.”
Some of Wie’s putting success can be attributed to returning to a traditional blade putter and some advice from U.S. Solheim Cup captain and neighbor Meg Mallon, whom Wie considers “a second mother.”
Wie admits that the naysayers may have gotten into her head regarding putting.
“I know my stroke is good when I look at it on the cameras,” she said. “So I have to trust it and know that I’m a good putter. I think everyone was like ‘What is happening with her putting?’ and it got to my head a little bit. I know I’m a good putter. I’ve been a good putter and I can be.”
Her position on the leaderboard certainly rekindles memories of the 2005 and 2006 U.S. Women’s Opens when the teenager was the 54-hole leader. In 2005 at Cherry Hills Country Club, she shot a final-round 82 and tied for 23rd. The next year, she closed with a 73 at Newport Country Club and missed out on a playoff with Annika Sorenstam and Pat Hurst by two strokes.
“Just the fans. The whole U.S. Open feeling,” she said in recalling those Opens.
The intervening years, though, have brought little success at the Open. In 2007, she opened with an 82 and withdrew. In 2008 and 2010, she opened with rounds of 81 and 82, respectively, and missed the cut. Last year started with a 78 and she needed every bit of her 71 to fall under the cut. She tied for 55th. Wie didn’t enter the 2009 championship.
“The fact you’re in contention to have a chance to win the U.S. Open is a big deal,” Wie said. “I’m so grateful I have that chance right now. I’m really looking forward to seeing the crowds tomorrow and experiencing it all again.”
But which experience will it be?
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.