PEBBLE BEACH, California – It couldn’t have ended any other way.
After a dismal week at Pebble Beach, in which Michelle Wie West struggled to get to the bottom of the cup, there was no stopping the 30-foot par putt on the 18th green – the last of her career. And yet the ball kept rolling, then trickling, and finally falling.
All Wie West could do was laugh. It wasn’t quite the ending she envisioned – one that saw her through the weekend, played well, and maybe even made it to her last US Women’s Open in her last tournament – but it was the ending she did she got, and another lasting memory in a decades-long career.
“The game is a fun game,” said Wie West after two days of scoring 14 over par (79-79) and missing the cut by 8 shots. “Making that long putt at 18 was definitely a nicer send off.”
As West said, she had been fighting emotions since the first tee on Friday, holding back tears and waiting for the final moments to come. Standing behind her husband and caddy Jonnie West on the 18th tee, she took a few deep breaths and fought back tears before hitting her final tee into the fading light.
Beside her, three-time US Women’s Open champion Annika Sorenstam, who was also probably competing in her last major championship, asked her son to take a picture of her with her husband and caddy Mike on the 18th tee.
Everyone tried to hold on to the moment a little longer.
“It definitely feels surreal right now,” Wie West said. “It feels like nothing has changed and everything has changed at once.”
Then followed the walk down the 18th fairway and up to the green. As Sorenstam’s son left with the group, Wie West sought out her mother, who was pushing a stroller with Wie West’s three-year-old daughter Makenna in it. She slept.
After Wie West made the long putt and left the green to another ovation and a bouquet of flowers from USGA CEO Mike Whan, Makenna woke up. Like West, she picked her up immediately and carried her from interview to interview. Her presence was another reminder of the life Wie West now chose after decades of dedication to the sport that had led her here, 2,400 miles across the ocean from her home in Honolulu.
“I would have liked to have played better, but this whole experience was really remarkable,” said Wie West. “It was great to have my final lap here at Pebble Beach.”
The setting suited a storied career marked by many historic firsts that Wie garnered over her years in the game. Despite announcing her retirement ahead of last year’s US Women’s Open at Pine Needles, Wie West didn’t miss the final, which ended on Friday at one of the most iconic holes in the world with a memorable final shot that will come into play highlight reels to come still.
“The Public Links was the first tournament I played on the mainland,” Wie West said last year. “And the US Open would definitely be the last.”
This amateur public links tournament in 2000 was Wie West’s first historic foray into golf. She was 10 years old. Two years later, she became the youngest person to ever qualify for an LPGA Tour event. A year later, she won the Public Links at age 13, becoming the youngest woman or youngest man to win a USGA event. How did she follow that up? By competing in a men’s tournament (the 2004 Sony Open via a sponsorship exemption), he scored 68 points and missed the cut by just one shot.
Wie West competed in a total of six PGA Tour events, and although she turned pro in 2005 — which drew a rush from major sponsors and worldwide attention — her age meant she wasn’t able to gain LPGA membership until 2009. At this point, she had competed in six US Women’s Opens and 16 major championships, and had seven top-10 finishes to her credit.
Beginning in 2009, Wie West won just five more times on the LPGA Tour, including the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, which was the culmination of her long career. That year was the first time the women played the US Open at a venue where the men also played that same year.
This year, the importance of a long-overdue women’s major at Pebble Beach provided a fitting conclusion for Wie, who was not only a pioneer of women’s golf, but a phenomenon that pushed the sport to think beyond its preconceived boundaries. Her entry into the women’s, but also men’s, golfing world required not only a boldness that Wie West said Tuesday she hoped will be part of her enduring legacy, but also a burden no one should bear. And yet, in many ways, Wie West succeeded because of her overwhelming start in the sport.
That’s why her impact on the sport is still felt, even if the results on the pitch may never have matched the hype and anticipation that surrounded her in her early years. Several of the players in this year’s tournament broke their records after qualifying or competing in tournaments when she was younger than her.
“I pride myself on being fearless at times and just doing what feels right,” Wie West said of her career on Tuesday. “I hope to inspire many other girls to make bold and fearless choices and decisions in their careers as well.”
Though Wie West is leaving the game — she made it clear she probably won’t be touching her racquets for a while — she said her family is already planning a trip back to Pebble Beach at some point. Her next round won’t give her the adrenaline she said she’ll be missing, but it will remind her of something else she voiced after her round on Friday.
“I still love the game of golf,” she said. “But yes, it will be strange. It’s definitely an odd feeling. But it feels great.”
For the time being, however, there were no more putts to be hit and no more interviews to be given. When the sun finally came out and gave Pebble Beach some of its glow, Wie West picked up her daughter, stood next to her husband and walked away. The rest of her life had officially begun.