She missed the cut by miles, opening with a round in the 80s and never sniffing red numbers after making birdie on her opening hole on Thursday. Still, Michelle Wie West, as she now officially wishes to be known after taking her husband’s name, did what she has always done in making her first competitive start in almost two years: She moved the needle.
When last the golf world saw the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion, she was a broken soul, tears streaming down her pained face. That was June 2019 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship when a wrist and hand injury left the golf world believing we had seen her final shot.
Turns out, Wie West thought so, too.
“I thought I was done, to be honest,” she said in Carlsbad, California, at the Kia Classic. “After KPMG in 2019 I thought I was done, especially when I found out I was pregnant later that year. I thought that cemented it. I thought there was no chance of coming back and I told my husband that. He was like, ‘No, no, just think it through.’ ”
Said husband is Jonnie West, the director of basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors and son of NBA legend Jerry West. The Wests live in the Bay Area where, in the pre-pandemic era, they were seen courtside at Warriors games and at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City where they are members. As always, Michelle turned heads.
From the get-go there has been something about her. At age 12, it was her prodigious golf talent, the kind of gifted speed and athleticism that has become a standard part of the women’s game in 2021 but that few had seen in 2002. Her unconventional putting stance got a lot of attention in the mid-2010s. But more than that, her charisma and command presence has always sucked the oxygen out of a room. She can’t walk through an airport without attracting every eye.
That was true last week in Southern California, at least in the early going. Wie West got the Tiger Woods treatment at Aviara Golf Club, her every move chronicled on social media with hyperbole, good and bad, peppering her like a San Francisco rain. Most people were supportive, if not unrealistic in their expectations. But as is always the case with celebrity, a few were vicious and cruel. It’s to be expected. Just as twits on Twitter thought Woods’ every bogey marked the end of his career, trolls were all too ready to dance on Michelle’s missed cut at the Kia event.
“I want to show (daughter Makenna) in real time that I can (do it), that I play golf. ... (I want) to have her watch me with her own eyes. Seeing me go out there, work hard, and try to lead by example.”
Michelle Wie West
No clear-eyed observer expected greatness in her first week back. Not even Wie West herself, who called her game, “rusty,” and said, “It was tough to get back into it. But there’s a lot to learn from the last couple days. Obviously, I’m still not where I want it to be, but a lot of progress, and that’s the best thing. If I can improve by seven strokes every single day, I’ll take it.”
The good news is, just like Woods in 2019, Wie West seems a lot more at peace. Like Woods, she has a reason to play that has nothing to do with trophies or the trappings of fame. For him, it’s kids named Sam and Charlie. For her, it’s a crawling, smiling, baby girl named Makenna.
“When we found out that Makenna was going to be a girl, that just changed my perspective on everything,” Michelle said. “It was crazy how just that one little fact changed everything.
“That’s when I started to think, you know, I kind of want to (play again). I want to show her in real time that I can (do it), that I play golf. It’s one thing to have her watch YouTube videos, but it’s another thing to have her watch me with her own eyes. Seeing me go out there, work hard, and try to lead by example.”
Wie West saw the bond that Tiger and his 11-year-old son had competing together for fun at the PNC Father/Son Challenge in December and was inspired.
“That moment that Tiger had with Charlie, that is the first thing that popped to my mind and that's been a huge motivation,” she said. “That’s a new dream of mine.”
That dream is well in the future. More pressing is when and where Wie West will play in 2021. She isn’t too keen on flying yet and hasn’t even committed to going home to Hawaii for the Lotte Championship. She can’t imagine missing the U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club, which is 15 minutes from her house. And, of course, she hopes to play in the Mediheal Championship at her home club, Lake Merced. She is in the field this week at golf’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, a two-hour drive over the mountains from Carlsbad to Palm Desert, California. But beyond that, she is, in her words, “one week at a time.”
She also has other interests and obligations, in addition to motherhood. Wie West is on the LPGA board of directors and will be Pat Hurst’s assistant captain in this year’s Solheim Cup at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
In her spare time, she’s become a remarkably good television analyst for NBC and Golf Channel and has made no secret of the fact that she hopes to be in the booth later in her career.
But for the time being, it’s all about being a wife, a mother and a player.
“Goal-wise obviously I want to win,” Wie West said. “I’m not out here just to make the cut or do whatever. But I’m also really enjoying my time out here. I want to have fun. I know that’s when I play my best, when I go out there and have fun and really enjoy the game. I’m going to do that.
“Also, as a competitor I want to kind of show everyone what I’ve got. So, I’m going to go out there and take it shot by shot, enjoy myself, and try to make my daughter proud.”
Top: Michelle Wie West during the 2021 KIA Classic