Michelle Wie was encouraged by what she saw at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton Friday. Sure, it will be tough for the U.S. Women's Open June 27-30, but that is the way it is supposed to be. She finished 18 holes of practice believing that she will be just fine there, partly because of the layout and partly because she believes every day she is going to be just fine.
By most accounts, including her own goals, the 23-year-old's professional career has been a disappointment. She has not become the LPGA Tour's answer to Tiger Woods. She has not won a major. She has not developed a solid putting touch, having ditched the long putter in favor of a very short one. The most important "not" to her, though, is that she has not given up.
"When things go bad, you really have to think, 'How bad is my life, really?' I feel very lucky to be where I am right now," said the golfer who won the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at age 13 and held the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Women's Open at age 15.
"There are people with real problems in this world. If I play bad in a tournament, that's not a real problem. It feels bad at the time, but you really do have to put everything in perspective. I am one lucky person. That's really the way you have to look at it," she said in the Sebonack clubhouse, having practiced while other players on the LPGA circuit were playing a tournament in the Bahamas.
"It's very easy to spiral down and start thinking negatively. It does get very hard sometimes. I do have my down moments. But when you wake up it's a new day, it's a new opportunity. And what else are you going to do?"
The season has been all too familiar for the former future phenom. Wie has missed the cut in her past two events and finished tied for 56th in the tournament before that. She has been criticized for her new putting stance, in which she bends over at a 90-degree angle. It has hardly the sort of attention she used to draw, when she was competing in men's tournaments as a teenager, earning a reported $19.5 million in endorsements for 2007 (according to Fortune magazine) and getting larger crowds than any other female golfer.
What else can she do but put in hours of practice at the Bear's Club in Florida, or travel to Long Island to get ready for the Women's Open? What else can she do but be pleasant and gracious? "I know a lot of people make fun of my putting stance, whatever, but I feel more comfortable with it now. I'm actually starting to enjoy it, and see the greens better," she said.
There is always tomorrow, or next month. No time to regret the paths she has taken, especially not her four years at college. She already had turned pro, so she could not play for the team at Stanford. She was just a spectator at sporting events, a tailgater at football games.
"I have not particularly had a normal life per se. It was a dream of mine to go to Stanford, from before I even started playing golf so that was as important to me as my golf career. So going there was literally a dream come true," she said, noting that her father, grandfather, aunt and uncle were professors. "Being a nerd, I loved studying. I would love to go back to school."
On Friday, she was doing graduate work on Sebonack, learning that the sloped greens are not nearly as hard as she has heard they were -- as long as you can land the ball in the right spots.
"This is actually my first time in the Hamptons," she said. "The 18th hole, I have to say, is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. I've played Pebble [Beach], I've played Spyglass, all those, but this is so pretty. At Pebble, it's really beautiful, but it's kind of scary. You see the rocks and cliff. Here, you can see the entire bay. It's such a serene feeling."
She will take serenity where she can find it. She joked with Sebonack owner and founder Michael Pascucci, whom she knows from the Bear's Club: "I think you're making it sound easier than it is. You must be a phenomenal golfer."
Wie knows it will be tough next month. "I love struggling at a U.S. Open, that's the beauty of it," said the golfer who has learned not to mind a struggle.