Michelle Wie’s triumph is one for the ages

By capturing her first major championship at Pinehurst, Michelle Wie emphatically closed Golf’s historic first fortnight

By LEE PACE

Fifteen years ago, Payne Stewart settled over a crucial putt on the par-3 17th hole at Pinehurst No. 2, a U.S. Open championship in the balance. Stewart and Phil Mickelson were tied for the 1999 Open lead through 70 holes, with Mickelson striking his approach on 17 to 6 feet and Stewart nailing his to 4 feet. Mickelson’s putt slid past the hole and Stewart poured his into the heart of the cup, taking a one-shot lead that he preserved with his much-memorialized par on the final hole.

“It was a gimme,” caddie Mike Hicks said of the fateful birdie on 17. “Payne hadn’t missed inside 4 feet all week.”

Now it was Michelle Wie’s turn to make history on the 161-yard hole, her 8-iron nestling down 25 feet above and to the right of the front-left hole location. Wie had just double-bogeyed the 16th hole, letting a seemingly comfortable three-shot lead in the U.S. Women’s Open over Stacy Lewis shrink to a single shot. Lewis was now hitting balls on the practice range in the event of a playoff, and Wie settled into her unique table-top putting stance, where her upper torso is at 90 degrees to her long legs, the better to let her see the correct line from a head position nearer the ground.

If the 6 on 16 was giving her the shakes and sweats, she wasn’t letting on.

“I laughed it off,” she said. “Stuff like that does happen.”

 

Michelle Wie

Michelle Wie reacts after making a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole during Sunday’s final round of the 2014 U.S Women’s Open in Pinehurst.
Photo by The USGA

Wie read a double-break on the putt, struck it with the perfect speed and the ball did just as she thought. It tumbled into the hole and the normally reserved and stoic 24-year-old emphatically pumped her fist twice as she marched to the hole and retrieved her ball with a flourish.

“That kind of emotion, that kind of pressure—I’ll think of that putt as one of the best putts I’ve ever hit in my entire life,” she said.

Now with a two-shot cushion, Wie made a routine on par on 18 and collected her first major championship, bringing to a close a memorable and historic fortnight in Pinehurst.

Exactly seven days earlier, Wie and a cadre of lady pros had walked up the 18th fairway inside the ropes and watched Martin Kaymer wrap up his precise and surgeon-like demolition of the U.S. Open field. The baton was passed from the men to the ladies in this unprecedented running of the USGA’s premier national championships on a golf course designed in the early 1900s by Donald Ross and restored the last four years by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

 

“I think the course is spectacular, and I think winning on the same golf course that Payne Stewart won means so much to me,” Wie said. “There’s just so much history to this golf course. And just the fact that I can be part of that history, it’s just so cool. I feel so honored to be part of that history.”

“I don’t think you can script it any better. I think it’s great for the game of golf. I think it’s even better for women’s golf. And I’m so happy for Michelle Wie. This has been such a long time coming for her.” -Stacy Lewis

USGA President Tom O’Toole opened the awards ceremony in the twilight Sunday by noting that Pinehurst is now the only course to have hosted the U.S. Open, Women’s Open, Senior Open and both Men’s and Women’s Amateurs—not to mention a PGA Championship (1936) and Ryder Cup (1951). Now Kaymer, the 29-year-old German, and Wie, the 24-year-old Hawaiian, take their spots among the Hall of Fame professionals (Hogan to Snead to Nicklaus to Watson) and the outstanding amateurs (Patton to Ward, Bell to Zaharias) who’ve plied their skills so admirably on the course and are remembered on the walls of Heritage Hall in the Pinehurst Resort Clubhouse.

“I don’t think you can script it any better,” Lewis said after her runner-up finish. “I think it’s great for the game of golf. I think it’s even better for women’s golf. And I’m so happy for Michelle Wie. This has been such a long time coming for her.”

Added Bob Dedman Jr., who next month celebrates the 30-year anniversary of his family’s ownership of the resort and club: “We have two great champions. They’re both young and they both played phenomenal golf.”

 

June of 2014 will be remembered for how well the golf world received the retro-fitted No. 2 with its taut fairways and sandy native areas; for the herculean work of the maintenance crew to repair it after a one-hour rain deluge the first Thursday night (See video of that effort here); for the logistics and operations management staffs that said farewell to one major championship and in the blink of an eye was ready to roll with the second; for the poise, shot-making and course-management skills of Kaymer and Wie; and for the disparate ages and personalities of the golfers, from the 54-year-old Juli Inkster to the 11-year-old Lucy Li.

“I think we’re making history this week playing on the same stage. I just was so excited. I had goosebumps walking up the 18th with the guys last week and now here I was doing it myself seven days later. This was a fabulous week. I think the back-to-back format was a great idea.” -Michelle Wie

“I think we’re making history this week playing on the same stage,” Wie said. “I just was so excited. I had goosebumps walking up the 18th with the guys last week and now here I was doing it myself seven days later. This was a fabulous week. I think the back-to-back format was a great idea.”

Added Dan Burton, chairman of the USGA’s championship committee:  “My first thought is wow. Wow. If you let me write a script about how I would dream it to go, that’s how it went. Just an absolutely wonderful two weeks, great golf.”

Who knows if they’ll ever try it again, this pairing of the men’s and ladies’ National Opens on successive weeks on the same course. That the USGA in 2018 is locking the Women’s Open into an early June date and that there are few venues beyond Pinehurst that could accommodate the many demands augur for a modest likelihood.

Which means if this was a one-off entry in golf history, it might as well have occurred in Pinehurst.

Author Lee Pace will soon update his 2012 book, “The Golden Age of Pinehurst,” to include the history-making back-to-back Opens on Pinehurst No. 2.

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