Paolo UggettiESPN5 minutes of reading
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — There was no other way it could have ended.
After a dismal week at Pebble Beach, where Michelle Wie West struggled to find the bottom of the cup, that 30-foot par putt on the 18th green – the last of her career – had no reason to drop. And yet the ball kept rolling, then trickling and finally falling.
All Wie West could do was laugh. This wasn’t quite the ending she envisioned — one where she lasted until the weekend, played well and maybe even competed at her final US Women’s Open in her final tournament ever — but it was the ending she got and another lasting memory in a career that has spanned decades.
“The game is a fun game,” Wie West said after posting a two-day score of 14 over par (79-79) and missing the cut by 8 shots. “Making that long putt on 18 was definitely a sweeter rejection.”
Wie West said she had been fighting back emotions since the first tee Friday, holding back tears and waiting for the final moments to come. Standing on the 18th tee behind her husband and caddy Jonnie West, she took a few deep breaths and held back tears just before sending her final tee ball into the fading light.
Beside her, three-time US Women’s Open winner Annika Sorenstam, who was likely also a player in her last major championship, asked her son to take a photo of her and her husband and caddy Mike on the 18th tee.
Everyone tried to hold on to the moment a little longer.
“It definitely feels surreal right now,” Wie West said. “It feels like nothing has changed and everything has changed at once.”
Then came the trip down the 18th fairway and up to the green. While Sørenstam’s son walked with the group, Wie West sought out her mother, who was driving a stroller with Wie West’s 3-year-old daughter, Makenna, in it. She slept.
After Wie West made the long putt and walked off the green to another standing ovation and a bouquet of flowers from USGA CEO Mike Whan, Makenna woke up. Wie West immediately surprised her and carried her from interview to interview, her presence serving as another reminder of the life Wie West now chose after decades of dedication to the sport that had brought her here, 2,400 miles across the ocean from her native Honolulu .
“I would have loved to have played better, but this whole experience was really remarkable,” Wie West said. “It was great to have my last round here at Pebble Beach.”
The setting was fitting for an illustrious career marked by many historic firsts that Wie racked up during his years in the game. Although she had announced her retirement ahead of last year’s US Women’s Open at Pine Needles, Wie West did not want to miss a final that on Friday melted together on one of the most famous holes in the world with a memorable final stroke that will play in highlight reels to come.
“The Public Links was the first tournament I played on the mainland,” Wie West said last year. “And the US Open would definitely be last.”
The 2000 Amateur Public Links Tournament was Wie West’s first historic foray into the world of golf. She was 10 years old. Two years later, she became the youngest ever to qualify for an LPGA Tour event. A year later, she won the Public Links at 13, becoming the youngest woman or man to win a USGA event. How did she follow it up? Playing in a men’s event (2004 Sony Open via a sponsor’s exemption), shooting 68 and missing the cut by just one stroke.
Wie West went on to play in a total of six PGA Tour events, and while she turned pro in 2005—to foster an onslaught of major sponsorships and worldwide attention—she was unable to achieve LPGA membership until 2009 due to his age. By then, she had already played in six US Women’s Opens and 16 major championships, and had seven top-10 finishes to her name.
As of 2009, Wie West won just five times on the LPGA Tour, including the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, which represented the pinnacle of her long career. That year was the first time the women played the US Open at a venue that the men also played in the same year.
This year, the significance of a long-awaited women’s major at Pebble Beach represented a fitting end for Wie, who was not only a trailblazer for women’s golf, but also a phenomenon who pushed the game to think outside its preconceived barriers. Her entry into not just the women’s golf world, but the men’s as well, required not just a boldness that Wie West said Tuesday she hopes is part of her lasting legacy, but also a burden that no individual should bear. And yet in many ways, because of her larger-than-life take on the sport, Wie West did.
That’s why, while the results on the field may never have matched the hype and anticipation that surrounded her in her early years, her impact on the game is still felt. Several of the players in this year’s tournament have broken their own records after qualifying or playing in tournaments at an even younger age than she did.
“I pride myself on being fearless at times and just doing what felt right,” Wie West said Tuesday of his career. “I hope that I inspire a lot of other girls to also make bold and fearless decisions and choices in their careers.”
Although Wie West is leaving the game — she made a point to say she probably won’t be touching her clubs for a while — she said her family is already planning a trip back to Pebble Beach at some point. Her next round won’t give her the adrenaline rush she said she’d miss, but it will remind her of something else she expressed after her round Friday.
“I still love the game of golf,” she said. “But yeah, it’s going to be weird. It’s definitely a weird feeling. But it feels great.”
For now, however, there were no more putts to hit, no more interviews to give. When the sun finally appeared and gave Pebble Beach some of its glow, Wie West picked up her daughter, stood next to her husband, and began to walk away. The rest of her life had officially begun.