Michelle Wie Lives Up to Prodigal Talent with Win at 2014 US Women's Open

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2014

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It took her 11 years, but Michelle Wie has finally lived up to her promise.

The former child prodigy, who first made the U.S. Women's Open cut when she was only 13 years old, won the maiden major of her career Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2. She shot two under par for the championship, two shots ahead of runner-up Stacy Lewis. 

She's only 24 years old, but Wie has already lived a lifetime of ups and downs in the spotlight. However, all of her struggles made this win so much sweeter. 

"There were moments of doubt in there, but I had a lot of people around me who never lost faith in me," Wie said, according to Karen Crouse of The New York Times. "It’s just amazing."

Once a brash teenager who announced, per ESPN The Magazine's Eric Adelson, "I think I can beat Tiger [Woods] when I’m 20. It’s a life goal," Wie was already considered a has-been by the time she could legally drink.

The American gained fame when she qualified for the Women's Amateur at the ripe age of 10 and turned pro right before her 16th birthday, immediately signing contracts with Nike and Sony so large that they would come to define her.

She started off well, finishing in the top five in three of the four majors in 2006. The question wasn't if she would win a major—it was how many she'd win while still a teenager.

Michelle Wie in 2006.
Michelle Wie in 2006.Anonymous/Associated Press

But Wie was very much a victim of her own hype.

She gained notoriety for her repeated (and unsuccessful) attempts at playing on the PGA Tour, and her putting and confidence quickly crumbled. She didn't make it back to the top five at a major until this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she finished second to Lexi Thompson. 

Ron Sirak of Golf Digest looked at Wie's journey over the last eight years, all the way back to her third-place finish at the U.S. Women's Open at Newport CC in Rhode Island when she was only 16:

Since then, like much of Wie’s more than a decade-long star-turn on the big stage of professional golf, it has been a struggle as there were two withdrawals, two missed cuts, a T-55 and a T-35 in the Women’s Open.

That great finish at Newport preceded the great collapse of 2007 when, in eight injury-plagued LPGA events, she missed three cuts, withdrew twice and played to a scoring average of 76.68.

There was a bounce-back in 2009 and ’10 when she had one LPGA victory in each of those years and then another slide as she missed 10 cuts in 2012 and seven in the first half of 2013.

Through all of the hard times and poor decisions, Wie never did stop working. In 2014, things started rapidly moving in the right direction. She's made 11 out of 11 cuts this year and has finished in the top 10 eight times, with two victories. With this win at Pinehurst, she now leads the LPGA Tour's money list.

She talked to reporters this week about how it feels to have her hard work and determination finally pay off, via ASAP Sports:

I think that it's a lot more fun when you work hard. The results show. But I've been very patient, even when I didn't play well. I worked hard. I knew I could get better. I knew I could improve...I love working on my game. I love working on different shots. Just trying to get better every day. I never really lost a sense of determination or drive. It just—it is—it is a lot more fun when you work hard and the results show.

After Wie won the LPGA Lotte Championship earlier this year and finished as the runner-up at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, many thought she could finally win her major here at Pinehurst No. 2. But for the first two days of the tournament, Wie was overshadowed by another child prodigy in 11-year-old Lucy Li.

With her patriotic outfit and unabashed love for ice cream, Li stole the hearts of Americans and dominated the headlines with her back-to-back 78s. 

But as the preteen was impressing while missing the cut, Wie was laying the groundwork for the biggest win of her career with back-to-back rounds of 68. She shot a 72 on Saturday, which left her tied with Amy Yang of South Korea for the lead at two under par heading into the final day.

Celebration time!
Celebration time!David Cannon/Getty Images

Sunday was all about Wie, though. Yang fell back quickly with two bogeys and a double over the first four holes, while Wie was as steady as can be.

There was little drama until the 16th hole, where Wie was unnecessarily aggressive from the bunker and ended up with a double bogey. That narrowed her lead to one shot over Lewis, who was in the clubhouse with a 66 on Sunday and at even par for the championship.

In the past, the misfiring might have rattled Wie and caused her to panic. It would be hard to blame her if it had. However, on Sunday, Wie showed just how mature she has become by bouncing right back.

On the 17th hole, she sank a 25-foot putt to finish with a birdie and take the pressure off on the final hole, which she parred.

No longer a prodigy, Wie is now a trusty veteran who is ready to be the face of women's golf that so many wanted her to be over a decade ago.

Throughout her slumps over the past eight years, Wie's putting has been her weakness. But this week, it set her apart from the field in a good way. She didn't have a three-putt through all four rounds and had 25 one-putts on the greens. 

When she was a teenager, Wie wanted to play with the boys so badly that she ended up losing her way. On Sunday, on the same stage the men occupied one week earlier, Wie proved that she is back on track.

The future for this former wunderkind is, once again, blindingly bright.