SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Michelle Wie West's road back to the U.S. Women’s Open was a long one with detours for marriage, motherhood and injuries.
The 2014 champion is set to play her first Open in three years starting Thursday at the Olympic Club, just a short drive from her new home base in the Bay Area.
“It’s a really cool feeling being here,” she said. “I guess just staying at my house these two weeks is pretty nice. I’ve never had that happen before at a major tournament. ... Being here at Olympic Club, at another amazing venue, it’s really fun. It’s really amazing to be back. It’s an honor.”
Wie West returned from a nearly two-year absence from competitive golf this spring but failed to make the cut in the three tournaments she has played so far this year. She last made a cut in February 2019 at a tour event in Thailand and hasn’t even been in the running at a major since tying for 10th place at the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek.
That lack of recent success has made Wie West a long shot this week. Seven-time major winner and two-time U.S. Open champion Inbee Park is favored, followed by Ariya Jutanugarn, Jin Young Ko and Lydia Ko at the Lake Course that figures to be especially challenging with deep rough and small greens.
This is the first time the women are playing the U.S. Open here but the men have held five Opens on this course. Only four players finished under par in those tournaments.
“It’s pretty spectacular,” Jessica Korda said. “There’s no first cut out here. The rough is high. Greens are really small. It’s going to be a difficult test, but I’m really excited about it because this is exactly what a U.S. Open, in my head, always is supposed to look like.”
The deep rough does give Wie West some pause after spending much of her time away recovering from a lingering wrist injury that required surgery in 2018. She described the course as a “beast.”
“I look at it, and I’m like, ‘Ugh. It’s terrifying,’” she said of the rough. “I’m doing the best I can. I have my devices at home, and I do all of them. I go through all my PT stuff. I knew when I signed up to come out and play again, especially at the U.S. Open, I knew that it was going to happen. I wasn’t expecting to come out and there to be no rough. Does it worry me? Yes. But the last couple of days I hit a lot of shots out of the rough, and I’m feeling pretty confident about it. It will always be what it is. I’m playing definitely on borrowed time, and I’m grateful for every second of it.”
Wie West has been busy during her time away from the tour. She got married in 2019 to Jonnie West, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West and an executive with the Golden State Warriors, gave birth to her daughter, Makenna, last June, and is preparing to be an assistant captain for the Solheim Cup.
She got a surprise greeting for her practice round Wednesday with a virtual introduction from her husband and daughter, which led to her wiping away a tear before teeing off.
Wie West also helped design a tie-dyed LPGA hoodie that has quickly become a hot memorabilia item after Warriors players Kent Bazemore and Damion Lee wore it even before it officially launched in April.
The proceeds from those sales go to the Renee Powell Fund, which provides need-based grants to girls golf programs, including those in Black communities.
“The coolest part about this is the large sizes sold out first. So we really thought it was going to be the smalls, like the ladies, and the support from the ladies has been great, but surprisingly the large/extra large sold out first, like within hours. It’s crazy,” she said. “It’s been really, really amazing the support, and people wearing it, tagging me on Instagram. It just makes my day seeing the different types of people wearing it and kids wearing it and people that you don’t expect to wear it.”
Wie West has also spent some time golfing with a star from another sport, playing some rounds this spring with two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. Wie West said watching a great performer like Curry provides some inspiration for her game.
“He is such an elite athlete. He’s just in a league of his own. His athleticism, his golf game, you could just really tell. What he can do with his hands is just unbelievable. Watching him this season has been so incredible to watch, it’s unbelievable. Every game he plays, I’m like what is he going to do now, what amazing thing?” she said. “Just watching, I feel like I’m hopefully absorbing some of the greatness.”
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Josh Dubow, The Associated Press