World Golf Hall of Fame member Judy Rankin called Michelle Wie "an astounding young player" as she approached the final green of the CN Canadian Women's Open at the St. Charles Country Club in Winnipeg. She's always been astounding and it's important to note that she is still young, only 20, in fact. Down the road, the golf world may come to see Wie's win in what was once an LPGA major as her coming-out party.
Wie played solid, controlled golf in the last round. She was tied for the lead with Jiyai Shin starting the day, and then pulled away with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes. But Wie still had to bring it home, and that was when she demonstrated a champion's composure to go on to win by three shots. Her friend Christina Kim ran after her on the 18th green to shower her with champagne. It was all good stuff, and anybody who has followed Wie since she won the Women's U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship when she was 13 had to feel happy for her.
Wie had been through plenty. She'd been given exemption after exemption into LPGA tournaments when she was an amateur, and after she turned pro. PGA Tour events had offered exemptions that she had accepted. She wasn't shy about declaring her wish to win on the PGA Tour and to qualify for the Masters.
Wie signed contracts worth millions of dollars as soon as she turned pro, although she'd not won anything of consequence since the Public Links. Critics were everywhere, especially of the people around her. There was parental pressure and it was probably too much for a youngster. There were changes in her business relationships. There were injuries.
Then Wie went to qualifying school in advance of the 2009 season, and got through. She was a captain's pick for the U.S. team for the 2009 Solheim Cup and went 3-0-1 to take more points than any of her teammates as the U.S. won. She won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational at the end of the season, her first LPGA win. Surely she was on her way to fulfilling her potential. Nobody had a more powerful and aesthetically-pleasing swing. It's always been something to watch, which made her difficulties in earlier years all the more perplexing.
Still, Wie had posted only three top-10 finishes in 14 tournaments this year. She was 20th on the money list. She had to be wondering why she was still struggling after showing leadership qualities at the Solheim Cup and then winning the tournament named for Ochoa, the best player in women's golf the last few years. Annika Sorenstam had retired and Ochoa would retire last April. Women's golf had a void. It needed a charismatic superstar.
It had been said for years, even assumed for years, that Wie would be that golfer. Was it fair to impose such a position on Wie before she had earned it? Yet she had taken all that money, and accepted all those exemptions. The thinking was that Wie had put herself in a place where it was right that so much should be expected of her on and off the course.
Wie's long-time swing coach David Leadbetter had stuck with her. He knew she had returned to competition too early after a wrist injury, and that she needed to find her own way as a young lady in the world. Wie remained very close to her parents, but she had also started to assert herself. Still, not much was happening this year. Until Winnipeg.
Wie in Winnipeg seemed a match from the start. She felt comfortable in the city although she said she had never heard of it until she learned that's where the CN tournament would be held. She took the lead right away with a seven-under-par 65, which included a hole-in-one. She followed with 69-72-70. Wie called the win a "confidence-booster."
Wie needed the win. The LPGA needed it. A Wie win in Winnipeg was a win for golf. Wie's win was a high moment for her, for Winnipeg, and for St. Charles, the classy club where the late George Knudson learned to play and where a gifted and still young golfer took the next step to stardom.
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 11 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider's Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); and his latest, This Round's on Me (2009). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com .Report Typo/Error