One Wie Step For Michelle, One Giant Leap For Women's Golf

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IAugust 23, 2009

SUGAR GROVE, IL - AUGUST 23:  Michelle Wie of the U.S. Team celebrates on the 18th fairway after the match was won in the Sunday singles matches at the 2009 Solheim Cup Matches at the Rich Harvest Farms Golf Club on August 23, 2009 in Sugar Grove, Ilinois (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Nineteen year olds aren't what they used to be.

We all know that 19-year olds can’t handle the pressure of an international event with 30,000 people screaming in your ears and the cameras of two continents following your every move.

It's even sillier to think that 19-year olds can deal with the expectations of having to win head-to-head against one of the greatest European golfers of all-time.

They certainly cannot be expected to cover up the mistakes of their veteran counterparts and lead by example, right?

Well it turns out that Michelle Wie is no ordinary 19-year old.

Of course, we have known that fact for some time.  Wie has been a household name ever since she tried to make the cut at the PGA’s Sony Open in her home state of Hawaii six-years ago.

Oh how the times have changed.

Certainly things have not gone the way anyone expected since we first laid eyes on this emerging phenom.  The weight of expectations has brought out the best and the worst of Wie, but we have kept watching and hoping for the breakthrough.

We knew that she had the talent to become not just a winner but a dominant force on tour.  She could become the star to carry a tour that is losing sponsors left and right while trying to find a new commissioner after the last one was politely asked to step aside. 

We knew she could do it but we just had to keep believing until it actually happened.

Well that time has come.  Michelle Wie has come of age.

Let’s consider what Wie accomplished this weekend in Sugar Grove, ,with her Solheim Cup teammates.

Wie finished the weekend with an undefeated record of 3-0-1, the best record of any American player this year.

Now consider the fact that Wie is not only a rookie at the Solheim Cup but that she was a captain’s pick. Clearly Wie has played well this year, but picking Wie was a bit of a gamble for U.S. captain Beth Daniel. 

Wie has shown a propensity to make big numbers at inopportune times this season.  She has found ways to shoot herself out of competition like back-to-back 81's at the Kraft Nabisco. Coming up small on the biggest stage in women’s golf would not only have looked bad for Wie but for the person who picked her over veteran Solheim stalwarts like Pat Hurst.

Well Wie did not come up small on the big stage, she became larger than life. 

When her teammate Cristie Kerr made a mental error and knocked her approach shot in the drink on 17, Wie bailed her out by making the putt to halve and backed it up with the winning putt on 18.

When her singles opponent Helen Alfredsson hit her approach to within three feet for eagle, Wie got inside of her to win the hole and snatch momentum.

Even when Alfredsson fought back to square the match, Wie rebounded to take a 2-up lead and delivered the knockout blow on 18 when she hit the green on the par five in two.

Wie went up against the best Europe had to offer and she came out victorious.

We knew Wie could drive the ball into the next county and we knew she could make miraculous escapes from behind trees and in the deep rough. What no one knew was how she was going to handle the flat stick with the hopes of a nation on the line.

Wie’s putter has cost her the chance to capture that first victory on tour for years now.  Recognizing a change was needed, Wie went to the Stocktons for help and the change is evident.

Five-footers used to leave the young Stanford Cardinal hanging her head or hitting her putter, now they leave her pumping her first or doing a little dance.  After just a few weeks, Wie has put together three days of golf that would rival any player on Earth.

She knocked her irons stiff and her putting display this weekend was the play of champions.  Her 3.5 points proved crucial in a 16-12 victory for the United States that was far closer than the final score would indicate.

Not to mention the pressure behind these shots.  Three of Wie’s four matches went to the final hole and she did not lose a single one.  That is the definition of “clutch” and a sign that a change is coming to the LPGA tour.

Of course, what is truly great about Michelle Wie is that she still is a 19-year old girl. 

She can Twitter with the best of them and she can listen to Soulja Boy in her hotel while dreaming about her crush, Orlando center Dwight Howard.  She can take time to enjoy shopping and hanging out with friends.

She may act like one of us, but she has the talent of legends.

That dichotomy is something to be treasured for we rarely get to see such a personal glimpse into our star athletes' lives and personalities.  For six years, neither had Wie’s playing partners.

Indeed, Wie’s greatest victory this weekend was not on the links but in the locker room. 

It’s not easy being the poster child of a tour where you have never won or never truly been accepted.  Many of her contemporaries have had to deal with questions and comparisons to Wie.  Even when Morgan Pressel was becoming the youngest woman to win a major or Paula Creamer was climbing in the world rankings, the sponsor’s exemptions and the press time were going to Wie.

No wonder that raised the ire of some players who began to demand that Wie earn some of that star treatment she was being given.

Not exactly the best way to start a friendship now is it?

Well the spirit of playing for your country clearly changed the demeanor of the stoic Wie. 

With the weight of expectations always firmly on the shoulders of youngster, it was wonderful to see her actually enjoying herself on the golf course.  Whether it was dancing with Christina Kim or running up and down with an American flag, Wie got the chance to act her age.

More importantly, she could find camaraderie with her teammates.   That unity may give her the confidence she needs to take that next step we have all been waiting for.

Make no mistake; Wie will never silence the critics until she wins an LPGA event.  She has knocked on the door many times and we always knew she was close to getting the proverbial monkey off her back.

This weekend was just a step in the right direction, but it may result in a leap, not only in the career of Michelle Wie but for the LPGA tour.