Michelle Wie conducted herself like a champion in Sunday’s final round of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and with that powerful transformational concept operating full bore, became the Champion. Step into the role fully and faithfully and the rest is inevitable. She just looked the part all day long.
And she was so deeply ensconced in the role she has no recollection of her conversation with playing companion, Amy Yang, as they strolled down the 18th fairway with Michelle needing only a bogey to win:
“I don’t really know. I think I completely blacked out. It’s a complete blur.”
She was the only player to finish under par for the tournament at 2-under and that was enough to beat a hard-charging Stacy Lewis (eight birdies, four bogeys) by two. Stacy was one of the first to meet Michelle greenside to congratulate her.
One of the first things everybody wants to know when they win a major is how they managed the intense pressure:
“You know, I just had a lot of fun. It was just like I said yesterday, I woke up so excited. I was just so grateful for this opportunity. And I definitely got a lot of goose bumps walking up 18 because I thought to myself how cool it was. I kind of had the same putt as Martin [Kaymer to win the men’s Open]. Didn’t quite hit it as hard as he did. Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening.
I once met a woman on a plane through Denver who had a big dream for herself. Unfortunately, it was such a big dream that she could barely bring herself to speak about it. As a result, she had labored away in solitude trying to make it happen. By the time I walked her to her connecting gate, I convinced her that she had to start telling people what she was up to so that they could begin to support her in whatever way they could…because that’s what people naturally want to do. It was a lesson that Michelle learned long ago:
“Obviously there are moments of doubt in there. But obviously I had so many people surrounding me, my family, my friends, my coaches, Dave Leadbetter, everyone, my agency, IMG, they never lost faith in me, that’s what pushed me forward. It’s amazing.”
Everything was on cruise control for Michelle until she tried to play a fairway wood out of a fairway bunker on 16. She had a 3-shot lead at the time, why not? Well because you might come off of the shot a little and plug it the greenside sandy waste area and almost have to declare the ball lost:
“It was pretty scary. I gave myself a nice heart attack, I think I aged about 10 years in a span of 15 minutes there. But, yeah, it was weird. I was sure the ball was somewhere. Thankfully, the caddie found it and we just called it unplayable, I got a little aggressive with my bogey putt, which I left myself with quite a hefty putt coming back”
“But, yeah, just tried to laugh it off. It was just, that’s a situation where if you take yourself too seriously, bad things will happen and I think I just kind of just went with the flow of it.”
We’ve all seen instances where a player simply has to make an improbable putt. Payne Stewart’s putt on 18 to win his Open at Pinehurst. And now Michelle’s putt on 17 at Pinehurst to make a birdie cushion after a her double on 16. It was a fast, downhill putt that broke twice and rolled forever before it disappeared. It’s almost like those two putts were willed to go in. And because the moment is so heightened, there is a huge rush of adrenaline after it drops.
“I felt comfortable on 17. It’s a hole that I kind of did well on. Obviously I was very nervous, just because I made a mess out of things on 16, but I just knew what I needed to do. I knew I needed to make birdie, to make it easier on 18. But, yeah, I was just really happy when that putt broke in. It was awesome.”
“I think that was one of the best putts I’ve ever hit in my life. It was really fast. It was a double breaker. It definitely felt like Solheim when I made the putt. That kind of emotion, that kind of pressure. I just, I think, I’ll think of that putt as one of the best putts I’ve ever hit in my entire life.”
It helps to have a role model that you can closely identify with when you are trying to pull the best out of yourself. It’s one thing when you see inspirational play one day and are able to mimic it the next. That’s happened to all of us. But it is quite another for the iconic Julie Inster take a personal interest in you and offer you sincere encouragement:
“She said have fun and play my hardest, just gave me a little pep talk. We laughed around, we had the same banner on our knees on the driving range, but definitely Juli is someone that I completely look up to. She’s amazing and the fight that she has, I definitely tried to channel her today. Especially on 16 and 17.”
The news accounts are littered with stories about rounds ruined by an improbable bogey on the first hole. Not so much with seasoned Tour pros who have been there before. And so Michelle tells us how she overcame hers:
“Yesterday my first hole was a bogey, too. It’s a difficult hole. It’s a long way to go. It’s just I played it great, I played a great second shot, I played a great putt, it just didn’t break. There’s really nothing to do about it. Just try to move forward and try to make some birdies from then on.”
And the same thing happened on her double on 16. All of us watching had a catch in our breath and left wondering how she was ever going to get through 17 and 18 without still more damage. Didn’t faze Michelle at all:
Well, I just, stuff happens like that. It’s a U.S. Open, I just wanted to just kind of keep my calm.
But wasn’t quite as simple as that. It never is. If it was, they wouldn’t be paying the Tour pros the big bucks. Why? Without adult supervision, the mind rages with all manner of disparaging comments and bad language:
“Stuff I can’t say in public. But I think the most important thing that I was proud of is that I just didn’t let it get away from me. I assessed the situation. I knew what I needed to do. And I think that comes with experience. I think I learned from the past. I was in those situations.”
“And, for sure, you can go down the road and go, oh, my God, what will happen if I do this. Oh, my God, I’m going to make a triple. I’m going to make a quadruple. What’s going to happen. I’m going to lose the U.S. Open.”
“I just shut that off. And I’m just really proud of myself for being able to do that. I said, okay, I’m going to leave myself 75 yards [after my unplayable drop], I’m going to do this. I need to do that. If I don’t do it, I don’t do it. I just made it a game.”
There were other great lessons she learned in the process pulling this all together for herself over the years. Perhaps the most significant was not to get sucked into the black hole of perfection. Perfection is such a seductive goal because it speaks to high standards and hard work. But once you get out there actually trying to get the ball in the hole in competitive situations, you find that all that time was unnecessary:
“I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to just really stay in the present and really try not to control everything. I think when, growing up, I was kind of a control freak. I just wanted to control everything. Have the perfect swing. Have the perfect putting stroke. And if something wasn’t perfect, then I would start to freak out. I think over the years I started to learn, notice, that you can’t be perfect”
“I started to look at other people’s swings. There’s so many different swings that win golf tournaments. There’s so many different putting strokes. You can’t be perfect all the time. I just decided just to let it go, just to have fun, and just try to get better every day. And I think I’ve learned a lot from that.”
One of the other edges that Michelle had was her Sunday inside the ropes with Jessica Korda at the men’s Open following Martin Kaymer and Rickie Fowler. What she saw as they walked down the 18th hole was like a foretelling of her future. It was an inspiration:
“Oh, for sure. I walked down, I was like, oh, this would be really cool if it was me. I was walking with Korda and we were kind of walking up 18, and I told Korda, look to your left. Those people in the stands. It was unbelievable. We both got goose bumps.”
“I thought to myself, I want to be here on Sunday. I want to feel this exact thing. It’s a dream come true that it actually happened. I feel extremely lucky.”
Q. How good does it feel to hear 2014 Women’s Open champion?
“I don’t think that will ever get old. It’s a dream come true for me right now for sure.”