Rejuvenated Wie Embraces ‘Most Important Week’ July 11, 2017 | BEDMINSTER, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

Michelle Wie captured her lone major championship in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2, although her game is showing promising signs this week. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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It’s been a solid summer already for Michelle Wie, who recorded three top-four finishes in June and has six top 10s overall in 2017.

As she returns to the championship where she earned her last career win in 2014, Wie acknowledged feeling both stress and comfort in the run-up to her 14th U.S. Women’s Open start.

“It’s crazy; I can’t believe it’s been 14 already,” said Wie, 27. “The USGA has been like family to me. I played in my first USGA event back in 2000. That’s a good part of my life, you know. It’s been a great journey so far.”

Wie played her first USGA championship at age 10 as a child prodigy from Hawaii, and she won the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship three years later. She had five top-five finishes in majors between 2004 and 2006, including a tie for third in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open at Newport, R.I., before struggling for several years in marquee events.

But many, including Wie, thought her breakthrough victory in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on Pinehurst No. 2 would open the floodgates for more wins to come, especially since it had closely followed a runner-up finish in the ANA Inspiration and a victory in the LPGA Lotte Championship two months earlier. Wie dialed back her driver at Pinehurst, managed her way around the punitive native areas lining the fairways, and drained putts when they mattered, including a memorable clinching birdie on the penultimate hole.

It was an emphatic and timely victory for the player who had become labeled as the LPGA’s best player to have never won a major, but when 2015 came and went without a win, the questions and doubts returned.

“After I won in 2014, I thought I was going to win 15 more events,” said Wie on Tuesday. “Life doesn’t happen that way ... doesn’t happen the way you plan it out.”

The 6-foot-tall Wie has tinkered with her putting stance for years, looking for ways to roll putts more consistently and capitalize on her prodigious length. She went to an odd-looking tabletop stance that she employed during her victory at Pinehurst, but has since modified her approach.

This year, Wie is ranked 43rd on the LPGA Tour with an average of 29.39 putts per round. She is also 19th with 1.76 putts per green in regulation and 20th in scoring average at 69.83. The putting numbers are a vast improvement on 2016, when she was 76th in putts per round and 120th in putts per GIR.

“My putting has definitely changed over the years,” she said. “It’s ever changing [but] I feel like I’ve kind of settled into one thing hopefully. For right now.”

In the middle of last season, Wie and swing coach David Leadbetter changed her swing to produce a more pronounced fade in her ball flight. Wie sought a more predictable idea of where her ball was going.

“I call it the fade life,” Wie said with a laugh. “I wanted to play with more consistency and hopefully, the fade has brought me to that. I have to be aggressive in my lines.”

Wie has wrestled with injuries and physical ailments in recent years that have impacted her ability to play with confidence. For now, she claims to be healthy. Wie walked the golf course during Monday’s practice round, hitting chips and putts, but not because she was nursing an ache or pain.

“There is no secret that in my career, there’s [been] a lot of highs and a lot of lows,” she said. “It’s definitely hard to put yourself back together, [but] knowing that I can – it just makes me feel stronger.”

Wie’s strong performance in 2017 has helped her rise from No. 174 in the Rolex Rankings to a current position of No. 30.

She showed a flash of her old form in June at the Meijer LPGA Classic, when she carded rounds of 64-65 on the weekend to finish tied for second. That performance was her best finish since her win at Pinehurst.

“You have to ride with the ups and downs,” Wie added. “Life doesn’t happen as predictably as you want it. It’s unpredictable and you have to roll with the punches.”

In addition to being motivated by a chance to contend in another Women’s Open, Wie is admittedly gunning to earn a spot on this year’s USA Solheim Cup team. That event will be played in August and Wie wants to make her fifth squad.

“I didn’t rack up many [Solheim Cup] points last year and I was far down the list,” she said. “One of my main goals is to make the team and I know I have to play good golf this year. I don’t want to leave it to a captain’s pick.”

For Wie, the opportunity to win a national championship outweighs everything else this week.

“The U.S. Women’s Open week has been my most important week of the year,” she said. “Just having the memory of having won the 2014 Open will hopefully help me a lot. It gives me confidence knowing that I have done it before.”

Not to mention that she seems to be peaking at the right time of the season.

“It’s been a fun year so far,” she said. “It’s always great to come into the U.S. Women's Open feeling good about your game and feeling confident.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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