At the U.S. Women’s Open, Michelle Wie West Reflects on an ‘Amazing Journey’

Michelle Wie West, one of golf’s most celebrated players since she was 10, had breakfast Tuesday morning in the player dining area at the U.S. Women’s Open at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina.

“I had someone come up to me,” Wie West, 32, said, “saying that they were named after me.”

She gently rolled her eyes and deadpanned: “So that made me feel really young. I’m at that phase in my life.”

Last week, Wie West announced she was stepping away from competitive golf after this week’s championship. She has no plans to play another L.P.G.A. tournament in 2022. The only other event she expects to enter is the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

She used the word “retire” only once when speaking with reporters on Tuesday and conceded that she could change her mind. But for Wie West, who contended for major championships shortly after her 16th birthday, won five L.P.G.A. events, including the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, collected endorsements and prize-money earnings in the tens of millions of dollars and, notably, played eight times against men on the PGA Tour, there was the lilt of finality in her voice.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Wie West said. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m very excited for what happens next.”

The future, however, could wait for at least another 10 minutes as Wie West tried to summarize her career, which, because of her precocious introduction to elite golf, was lived under the obsessively bright lights of international stardom. Her career was also significantly disrupted by wrist injuries, which caused her to play intermittently or not at all for long stretches. In June 2020, along with her husband Jonnie West, she became a parent for the first time with the birth of the couple’s daughter, Makenna.

“First off, I want to say I have zero regrets in my career,” she said. “There’s always that inkling of wishing I had done more. But no one is ever going to be 100 percent satisfied.

“I have definitely had an up-and-down career, but I’m extremely proud for the resiliency that I’ve shown,” she said. “I’m extremely proud to have achieved the two biggest dreams that I’ve had — one being graduating from Stanford, and the other winning the U.S. Open.”

Wie West was smiling, laughing and at ease. Among all the very public moments of her very public career, this seemed to be an easy one, and she was happy to be back in the setting of her signature on-the-course achievement.

“I’m definitely giving myself some grace and enjoying this last week,” she said.

For Wie West, whose presence, manifold skills and towering drives drew comparisons to Tiger Woods, what was left unsaid was her impact on women’s golf. She never addressed the topic directly nor did she acknowledge her own substantial influence on the sport’s popularity, but when asked what has changed in the women’s game in the last 20 years, Wie West was animated.

“Oh, I mean, so much has changed,” she answered. “Huge kudos to the U.S.G.A. for really buying into the women’s sport and the L.P.G.A. for just growing and keep pushing the boundaries.

“When doors get closed on us, we just keep pushing, and I’m just so proud of everyone on tour and the U.S.G.A. for really buying in and setting the level right,” she said.

In January, the United States Golf Association nearly doubled the U.S. Women’s Open prize money to $10 million with the winner of this year’s championship earning $1.8 million, the richest single payout in women’s golf.

A year ago, only three women on the L.P.G.A. tour earned more than $1.8 million. While the prize money for the men’s U.S. Open is $12.5 million, the U.S.G.A. chief executive Mike Whan has plans to bump the women’s purse to $12 million in a few years.

The payouts of golf-industry sponsorship contracts awarded to top men’s golfers continue to overshadow most of those bestowed on women.

But on that front, Wie West, who last year joined the L.P.G.A. board of directors and continues to serve in that capacity, had advice, from personal experience, for the golfers who will succeed her.

Wie West playing from the 18th tee during the first round of the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where she tied for 46th.Credit…Adam Hagy/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

“As female athletes, a lot of times we get told, ‘Oh, your sponsorship is only worth this much; you should only ask for this much,’ ” Wie West said. “We’re kind of in that mind-set, and I would encourage female younger athletes coming up to say, ‘No, I know my worth. I know what I deserve.’ And ask for more.”

Asked if that was what she had done — successfully — she answered: “Yes, for sure.”

Wie West is also an investor in a company, LA Golf, that she said was pledging to start new initiatives for women golfers with hopes of financially altering the sponsorship landscape.

In the short term, Wie West still has a tournament to compete in this week, one that, given her other priorities, she has not prepared for as she might have 10 or 20 years ago.

“Definitely haven’t had the practice schedule that I usually do leading up to U.S. Open,” she said with a grin. “This week, I’m just soaking it all in. Just seeing all the fans, seeing all the players, walking the walk. It’s pretty cool.”

Being a past champion of the event helps Wie West enjoy the experience, perhaps more meaningfully than anyone would have expected. In what was something of a surprise, she said that without claiming the U.S. Women’s Open trophy eight years ago, there would not now be an end in sight to her competitive career.

“It’s the one tournament I wanted to win ever since I started playing golf,” Wie West said. She then insisted: “If I hadn’t won the 2014 U.S. Open, I would still — I definitely wouldn’t retire. And I would still be out here playing and chasing that win. That win means everything to me.”

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