ORLANDO, Fla. – Michelle Wie West has two simple goals for this week’s LPGA season opener: have fun and make a lot of birdies.
Wie West earned her spot in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions field courtesy of her victory at the 2018 HSBC Women’s World Championship. The limited-field kickoff event, now held at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, typically invites winners from the previous two years to participate. But because of the pandemic, the LPGA stretched that criterion to three years for the 2021 edition, which the 32-year-old Wie West subsequently missed while on maternity leave.
When she tees it up on Thursday, it will mark her first round on tour since last summer’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“I miss my friends, the people. I miss seeing all of you guys. Coming to events like this, it’s really fun to see everyone,” said Wie West, who made six starts last year upon her return following the birth of her first child, daughter Makenna, in June 2020.
“Oh, yeah, I miss the competition, as well.”
Wie West, a five-time LPGA winner and 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion, has played sparingly in recent years. Numerous injuries – neck, back, hip, knee, ankle, wrists and most recently an avulsion fracture in her right hand that required surgery in the fall of 2018 – have taken their toll, while becoming a mother has shifted her priorities.
These days, professional golf doesn’t seem quite as important as it once did. Wie West, as she describes it, no longer eats, sleeps and breathes the game. Instead, she’s ventured more into the business side of the sport. Last April, she spearheaded the #HoodieForGolf campaign that sold over 10,000 tie-dyed, LPGA-logoed hoodies in just two months while raising $225,000 for charity.
The only reason she still competes at all is, well, because of her daughter.
“If I played well, if I didn’t play well, that was like the end all, right? I felt like my whole mood surrounded on that, but I see her smile or chase after her and everything just disappears,” Wie West explained. “My main goal is to hopefully be a good role model for her … just want to make her proud and be a good example.”
As a mother, businesswoman and golfer – and the latter not just through YouTube highlights.
Wie West famously said last year that she thought her career was over after her tearful missed cut at the KPMG Women’s PGA in 2019, but when she found out Makenna was going to be a girl, she rededicated herself to showing her daughter, in real time, that mom plays golf. She was inspired, too, by Tiger Woods’ Masters-winning moment in which he was shown hugging his son, Charlie, just off the 18th green at Augusta National.
Shortly after Makenna was born, Wie West started bringing her daughter with her when she’d go hit balls. She no longer can sit there and beat balls for four hours every day like she used to, but Wie West said she still finds time for a couple of hours of daily practice, whether that’s at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, where the Wests moved to from San Francisco late last year, or the Madison Club in Palm Springs.
Recently, though, Wie West has had to stop taking Makenna with her to the range – for now.
“She will run around, and I can’t hit balls,” said Wie West, who called finally getting a nanny a “game-changer.”
It’s unlikely that Wie West will ever play a full LPGA schedule again. Life has changed too much in recent years – the Wests also added to the family with a second dog, Daisy, to go with their first pup, Gatsby. But she’s also not ready to hang things up completely.
As to what tournaments she’ll play this year, she’s currently unsure.
“I’m kind of looking at the schedule,” she said, “and just seeing what fits best with me and my family.”
For now, she’s just focused on these next few days, enjoying herself, rolling in a few putts and, most importantly, continuing to set a good example for Makenna. That’s more important than any trophy.