Michelle Wie West, one of golf’s most celebrated players since she was 10, had breakfast Tuesday morning at the player dining area at the US Women’s Open at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina.
“I had someone come up to me,” Wie West, 32, said, “saying they were named after me.”
She gently rolled her eyes and deadpanned: “So that made me feel really young. I am at that phase in my life. “
Last week, Wie West announced she was stepping away from this week’s championship after competitive golf. She has no plans to play another LPGA tournament in 2022. The only other event she expects to enter is the 2023 US Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
She used the word “retire” only once when speaking with reporters on Tuesday and conceded that she could change her mind. But for Wie West, who contended for major championships shortly after her 16th birthday, won five LPGA events, including the 2014 US Women’s Open, collected endorsements and prize-money earnings in the tens of millions of dollars and, notably, played eight times against. On the PGA Tour of Men, there was the lilt of finality in her voice.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Wie West said. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m very excited for what happens next.”
The future, however, could wait at least another 10 minutes as Wie West tried to summarize her career, which, because of her precocious introduction to elite golf, was living under the obsessively bright lights of international stardom. Her career was also significantly disrupted by wrist injuries, which caused her to play intermittently or not at all for long stretches. In June 2020, along with her husband Jonnie West, she became a parent for the first time with the couple’s daughter, Makenna.
“First off, I want to say I have zero regrets in my career,” she said. “There was always that inkling of wishing I had done more. But no one is ever going to be 100 percent chance.
“I definitely had an up-and-down career, but I’m extremely proud of the resiliency that I’ve shown,” she said. “I’m extremely proud to have achieved two biggest dreams that I had – one being graduating from Stanford, and the other winning the US Open.”
Wie West was smiling, laughing and at ease. All of her very public moments of her very public career, this seemed to be an easy one, and she was happy to be back in the setting of her signature on-the-course achievement.
“I’m definitely giving myself some grace and enjoying this last week,” she said.
For Wie West, whose presence, manifold skills and towering drives drew comparisons to Tiger Woods, what was left unsaid was his impact on women’s golf. She never addressed the topic directly or she acknowledged her considerable influence on the sport’s popularity, but when asked what had changed in the women’s game the last 20 years, Wie West was animated.
“Oh, I mean, so much has changed,” she replied. “Huge kudos to the USGA for really buying into women’s sports and the LPGA for just growing and keeping pushing the boundaries.
“When the doors get shut on us, we just keep pushing, and I’m just so proud of everyone on the tour and the USGA for really buying in and setting the level right,” she said.
In January, the United States Golf Association nearly doubled the US Women’s Open prize money to $ 10 million with the winner earning this year’s championship $ 1.8 million, the richest single payout in women’s golf.
One year ago, only three women on the LPGA Tour earned more than $ 1.8 million. While the prize money for the men’s US Open is $ 12.5 million, the USGA chief executive Mike Whan has plans to bump the women’s purse to $ 12 million in a few years.
The payouts of the golf-industry sponsorship contracts awarded to top men’s golfers continue to overshadow most of those bestowed on women.
But on that front, Wie West, who joined the LPGA board of directors last year and continues to serve in that capacity, had advice, personal experience, for the golfers who will succeed him.
“As female athletes, a lot of times we get told, ‘Oh, your sponsorship is only worth this much; You should only ask for this much, ‘”Wie West said. “We’re kind of in that mind-set, and I would encourage female younger athletes to come up and say, ‘No, I know my worth. I know what I deserve. ‘ And ask for more. “
Asked if that was what she had done – successfully – she replied: “Yes, for sure.”
Wie West is also an investor in LA, a company that she said was pledging to start new initiatives for women golfers with hopes of financially altering the sponsorship landscape.
In the short term, Wie West is still competing in a tournament this week, given that its other priorities, she has not been prepared for as much as she might 10 or 20 years ago.
“Definitely had a practice schedule that I would usually do leading up to US Open,” she said with a grin. “This week, I’m just soaking it all in. Just watching all the fans, seeing all the players, walking the walk. It’s pretty cool. “
Being a past champion of the event helps Wie West enjoy the experience, probably more meaningfully than anyone would have expected. In what was a surprise, she said that without claiming the US Women’s Open trophy eight years ago, there would not be an end in sight to her competitive career.
“It’s the one tournament I wanted to win ever since I started playing golf,” Wie West said. She then insisted: “If I hadn’t won the 2014 US Open, I still would – I definitely wouldn’t retire. And I would still be out here playing and chasing that win. That win means everything to me. “