Paolo UggettiESPN5 minute reading
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Michelle Wie West has no problem admitting it: She’s been thinking about her final drive up to the 18th hole at Pebble Beach — the last of her career — a lot. She has visualized it, dreamed about it, even idealized it.
“Gosh, I hope it’s in the last group where everybody’s watching,” Wie West said Tuesday. “It would just be so incredible.”
As much as she has been able to, Wie West, 33, has written her own final script by deciding to make this year’s US Women’s Open at this historic venue her last ever competitive tournament. And yet she knows all too well the unpredictability of the sport that has dominated her life for the past 18 years.
That’s why she can’t do more about her exit when the ball is in the air on Thursday. She has made her decision – one she described as “tough” – and now has to come to terms with the finality it brings.
“When I finished Pine Needles, I was like, oh, but I have Pebble next year,” Wie West said of last year’s U.S. Open, where she first announced her retirement plans. “There’s no Pebble next year.”
Wie West didn’t express regret, but she did talk about wishes and desires. She had always said she would quit when she had children. She now has a young child and hasn’t played a true, full LPGA Tour schedule since 2018, but the sport she’s played her whole life still has a magnetism that speaks to her.
“I really, really wanted to play longer. I really wanted to — especially after having Makenna and her as a girl, I really wanted to play longer,” Wie West said. “In an ideal world, I wish I was still out on tour playing. Unfortunately, I just had to make a tough decision with my body. It’s tough. It’s tough being a mom out here. You have to take a lot of victims. I just had to make a tough medical decision and also a personal one.”
On Tuesday, Wie West played a practice round with fellow Stanford golf alum Rose Zhang, her family and friends afterward, watching her every shot at Pebble Beach, while her husband Jonnie West caddied after her and her daughter watched the seals at Stillwater Cove below. The pairing and setting suited a figurative passing of the torch between Wie West and Zhang, who looks set to become the next face of the women’s game. The two Stanford golf alums have become close as they pass each other and head in different directions in their careers.
“It’s definitely an emotional week for me,” she said. “I just realized that everything I’m doing, I’m doing for the last time. The putts I’m doing, you’d better believe I’m not going to do another putt for the rest of my life if It takes I don’t. So all the things I do for the last time, the last practice laps, get the line, write in my goal book.”
The melancholy that Wie West speaks of is not exactly visible while she plays. Instead, she’s focused on her game, what the ball is doing, what kind of shot the hole is asking her to hit, or how much that putt is breaking. But in a flash, she can also break out of it and talk to a friend, a member of the media, a relative, as if she is not in the middle of practicing for the last tournament of her career. For her, it seems like enjoying the ending.
“I’ve been reflecting a lot and incredibly blessed for the journey I have and the family I’ve built,” Wie West said. “It’s just a really cool week to be here.”
Her competitive spirit is still there, she said. In fact, it is both the hardest thing to replicate outside the course in other ways in her life, but also the easiest thing to let go of in her everyday life.
“When you’re a professional athlete, the highs are so high and the lows are so low,” Wie West said. “Honestly, this past year I haven’t felt the highest of highs, but I haven’t felt the lowest of lows either. It’s weird to have everyday life be kind of mundane. You go out there and eat three meals, you watch out your daughter, and at night you watch Netflix. It’s just every day is OK.”
Wie West seems to have not only made peace with the next phase of her life, but fully embraced it. While the clubs are stashed in “the darkest corner of my garage,” pickleball with her husband will help fill the adrenaline tank a bit. Her garden at home needs tending, she said. Also her daughter. And as for golf, she remains adamant that she will stay around, help, advocate and do whatever she can to ensure her legacy goes beyond her last putt.
“I want to continue to help the tour grow, women’s sports in general, and do everything in my power to continue to empower women, close the pay gap, whether it’s in sports and outside of sports,” Wie said West. “I think we need to lead by example, and I hope I can be a part of that.”