Wie, a glorious torch-bearer

The history-making men’s and women’s US Opens, held in consecutive weeks at Pinehurst No 2, could not have produced a more fitting finale.

After Martin Kaymer won the men’s title on June 15, the last woman standing was Michelle Wie, the only player in the field to have competed in multiple professional men’s events.

Ten years after missing the cut by 1 stroke at the PGA Tour stop in Honolulu, Wie tamed a course that played, “very similar for the men and the women,” according to the USGA’s executive director, Mike Davis. “Same green speed, same preparation of bunkers and everything else,” he added.

Wie’s 2-stroke victory over Stacy Lewis in her 38th major start underscored her resilience and continued the US resurgence in women’s golf. Led by Wie and Lewis, who have two victories apiece, Americans have captured nine of 15 events this year, including both majors.

Three of the five multiple winners are Americans (Wie, Lewis and Jessica Korda), and Lewis is ranked No 1. From the depths of their dispiriting loss to the Europeans in the Solheim Cup in August, the Americans have prodded one another to new heights.“We were angry after Solheim Cup,” Wie said. “We were angry with how we played. It definitely motivated us.”

During the men’s tournament, Wie walked inside the ropes with the final pairing of Kaymer and Rickie Fowler. She soaked up the scene as Kaymer walked toward the last green with an 8-stroke lead and the applause of the large crowd ringing in his ears. “I thought to myself, 'I want to be here, I want to feel this exact thing,'” Wie said. “It’s a dream come true that it actually happened. I feel extremely lucky.”

Wie is friends with Fowler, who tied for second, and Keegan Bradley, who tied for fourth. They gave her their yardage books, filled with detailed notes, after they were through, which Wie said was immensely helpful. But she owed her victory at least as much to something she had in common with Kaymer.

After trying to perfect his swing, Kaymer has made a concerted effort this year to focus less on technique and more on feel. The same is true for Wie, who no longer watches videotape of her swing.

“Growing up I was kind of a control freak,” she said. '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."

What caused her to change? “I started to look at other people’s swings,” she said. “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 to let it go, just to have fun and just try to get better every day.”

Her improvement has been striking. After winning twice in her first 161 starts on the LPGA Tour, Wie has two victories in her past seven. “I think the fact that I struggled so much, the fact that I kind of went through a hard period of my life, the fact that this trophy is right next to me, it means so much more to me than it ever would have when I was 15,” Wie said.

The PGA Tour has been stuck in a rut this year, its tournament results a few bright lights shy of a marquee. Phil Mickelson has failed to record a Top 10 finish, Rory McIlroy has not posted a victory (although he did win the European Tour’s flagship event last month), and Tiger Woods has missed the first two majors after back surgery.

The women, meanwhile, have staged stirring duels, with Lexi Thompson holding off Wie in the first major and Wie holding off Lewis in the second. Karrie Webb, a Hall of Famer, has won twice, and 17-year-old phenom Lydia Ko has won once. Inbee Park, the reigning Player of the Year, and Lewis have taken turns at No 1.

“I’ve got Michelle Wie chasing, you’ve got Lexi, you’ve got Inbee playing well and Lydia; there’s a lot of people chasing me,” Lewis said, adding, “It’s great. Wie pushes me to get better. I think I push some people to get better, too.”

Holding the women’s national championship at the same course as the men’s made people stand up and take notice of the women, who took it from there by putting on a fine show. “I think anytime you get the guys talking about us it’s a great thing,” Lewis said. “They wanted to see how we played this golf course. I think we showed that we can. I think we did a great thing for the women’s game.”

And Wie, for so long the LPGA’s marquee performer, validated her fans who came bearing signs that read “Wie Believe” by orchestrating the perfect ending.

“I don’t think you could script it any better,” Lewis said. “I think it’s great for the game of golf. I think it’s even better for women’s golf.” 

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