SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There is a lot about Michelle Wie that hasn’t changed since she won the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
A head taller than most players in the field, she is still a striking presence on the course, instantly recognizable as she strides down the fairway. Wie, 23, still possesses the long, powerful swing that unwinds so ferociously in the follow-through that her back nearly faces the target at the finish.
This was the swing that carried her to victory at Ocean Hammock Golf Club in Palm Coast, Fla., 10 years ago. She was just 13 when she won the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links to become the youngest champion of a non-junior USGA championship.
“It seems like a long time ago,” said Wie, who defeated Virada Nirapathpongporn, 1-up, in the final. “I remember how nervous I was coming down 18. It was crazy. Winning that was so special to me, more than winning any other championship.”
At Ocean Hammock, Wie’s parents, B.J. and Bo, walked every hole of every match, just as they marched up and down the hills of Sebonack Golf Club as Wie played a practice round on Tuesday for the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open.
In addition to showcasing the similarities, the practice round also demonstrated how Wie’s life and career have progressed over the past decade. While her parents used to be viewed as overprotective and often overbearing, B.J. and Bo kept to the background while providing encouragement and support as they followed her play at Sebonack.
Wie, who graduated from Stanford University last year, is now a full-time professional golfer, embarking on the next stage of her life; her parents provide guidance and feedback as needed.
On the difficult 14th hole, an uphill 428-yard par 4, Wie hit several approach shots, trying to figure out the best angles to anticipated hole locations on the large, undulating green. Bo had walked ahead, and as Michelle approached the green, she asked her mother in Korean where her first shot had landed.
“Off the hill,” Bo replied.
“Off the hill?” said Wie incredulously in Korean of the shot, which had rolled to the other side of the putting surface. She then repeated in English: “Off the hill?”
Once settled on the green, Wie demonstrated the biggest change in her game over the past 10 years. She stroked putts to various sections of the green, using a stance in which she bends over so much that her torso is parallel to the ground.
Wie’s unusual form is a reminder of her putting struggles, which have kept her from fulfilling the seemingly endless potential she demonstrated after barely entering her teenage years. In addition to her historic victory in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, Wie played in two women’s professional majors in 2003, tying for ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and making the cut in her first U.S. Women’s Open.
The following year, Wie tied for fourth in the Kraft Nabisco and tied for 13th in the U.S. Women’s Open. By the time she turned 17, Wie had added five more top-five major finishes, including a tie for third in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open.
But Wie, who turned professional a week before her 16th birthday, has been unable to keep up the torrid pace she set early in her career. She has two LPGA Tour victories, the last in 2010.
This year, Wie, who had come close to making cuts in PGA Tour events as a teenager, has missed six of 13 cuts on the LPGA Tour. But the player who qualified for her first USGA championship, the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, at age 10, always finds inspiration in playing under the USGA flag.
“I’m really excited to play,” said Wie, who is playing her 10th U.S. Women’s Open. “I love USGA events. You hear about the U.S. Open growing up. You watch it on TV. And then finally, just playing in it. That was a pretty amazing experience for me.
“It’s still as special as it was the first time I played it. It’s probably the most important tournament for me during the year. I definitely look forward to this championship a lot.”
Hunki Yun is the USGA’s digital publisher and web content manager. Email him at email@example.com.