Women’s British Open 9 a.m. (ESPN2)

Michelle Wie rising to new heights

New York TimesJuly 10, 2014 

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Michelle Wie of the United States chips during a practice round prior to the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale on July 9, 2014 in Southport, England.

WARREN LITTLE — Getty Images

Although Michelle Wie will be making her ninth appearance at a Women’s British Open Championship at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, it will be a trip unlike all the others.

That is because Wie, 24, earned her first major title last month with a two-stroke victory at the U.S. Women’s Open over her fellow American Stacy Lewis. As a result, Wie’s eighth British Open start as a professional will also be her first as a major championship winner.

“Winning the U.S. Women’s Open was a dream come true,” Wie said recently by email. “It will really be something to be announced on the tee as the U.S. Women’s Open champion.”

Wie, a long-hitting player rated No. 6 in the Rolex World Ranking, appears to be heading into the LPGA’s third major championship at the top of her game. She has posted 10 top-10 finishes in 14 events this year, with two victories and a runner-up finish at the tour’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April.

After four career victories and LPGA earnings of more than $4.5 million, Wie has been formidable this season, with a scoring average of 69.25 and 2014 earnings of more than $1.6 million. She leads the LPGA with 44 rounds under par in 54 starts.

The LPGA commissioner, Mike Whan, said: “I haven’t seen the obituaries of ‘whatever happened to Michelle Wie’ in about a full year now. Everybody has seen her turn around in 2014, and I think winning the U.S. Women’s Open was final validation that she is now ready to win a lot.”

Wie acknowledges that heading to another major championship this week offers new incentive.

“There is definitely momentum in my game coming into this event,” she said. “I’ll be heading over there with really high expectations.”

Wie won the low-amateur medal in her Women’s British Open debut in 2005, and has played the championship as a professional every year since.

Her best finish at the Women’s British Open was a tie for 11th at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in 2009, followed by a tie for 13th at the 2012 event at Royal Liverpool, and a tie for 17th in 2010, also at Royal Birkdale.

And although Lewis, the defending champion this week, lost the U.S. Women’s Open to Wie last month, Lewis gave credit to her friend for the giant strides she has made in 2014.

“She’s been through the ups and downs,” Lewis said. “She’s having fun and she has taken ownership of her game. It’s her game and I think people need to know that.”

Lewis, who plays practice rounds with Wie in Florida, said her friend had worked hard on the weaknesses of her game – mainly putting and course management – while weathering considerable criticism over the years, ranging from parental decisions about her tournament schedule to her putting, her time away from tournament golf to attend Stanford University and her early attempts to compete against men.

“She’s a friend of mine and just to see how far she’s come – even over the last year – how much better she’s playing and more confident she is as a person – I’m happy for her,” Lewis said.

Wie said her solid results this year were proof that she had finally learned that many kinds of golf swings and putting strokes could win tournaments. When she began bending 90 degrees at the waist, using what she calls a tabletop putting stance, late last year, her critics pounced. But when she emerged with a U.S. Women’s Open victory last month on the difficult Pinehurst No. 2 course, Wie had effectively made her point.

“I just decided to let it go, to have fun and to try to get better every day,” she said. “You can’t be perfect all the time.”

Wie now believes that she is ready to contend at another major championship. And with the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open title in her pocket, she says she arrives in England this year with a new hunger to win.

“I won at home in Hawaii this year and the feeling of winning in front of my friends and family was remarkable,” she said. “Having won a major this year, I can definitely say it builds momentum and helps with confidence, definitely makes me feel more complete as a player.”

Another major championship victory would complete her career-best season on the LPGA Tour.

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