LANCASTER, Pa. -- Wearing teal and purple, with a smile that would have lit up Pinehurst had the sun not been out, Michelle Wie found many ways last year to pose with the U.S. Women's Open trophy. She proudly displayed it in front of her. She kissed it. She held it off to the side at arm's length. And she hugged it as if she never wanted to let it go.
For all her years as the most high-profile teenage female golfer of her era -- competing in her first LPGA Tour event at age 12, playing at a PGA Tour stop when she was 14, attempting to qualify for the U.S. Open at 16 -- this was the moment of her ultimate achievement in golf, at the ripe old age of 24.
"I know that I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself at the U.S. Open," Wie said in May at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. "Last year was the first year that I really put no expectations on myself. That's what I'm going to do this year. I'm very grateful and very lucky to be the defending champion this year in Lancaster. I'm excited."
Wie will be a player to watch at Lancaster Country Club when the 70th U.S. Women's Open begins Thursday. However, based on her LPGA Tour performance this season, Wie might receive attention more for her prodigious drives and her unique putting style -- bending from the waist at a 90-degree angle with her head directly over the ball -- than having an excellent chance to repeat.
It hasn't been easy for Wie, who was slowed in the opening month with strep throat and a sinus infection. She suffered a hip injury in May and withdrew from the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia, describing that ailment as "a little bursitis." She wears a brace on her left ankle when she plays to protect an old injury.
Wie missed two of her past three cuts entering the Open, one at the ShopRite Classic. She has played 14 events without a top-10 finish. Conversely, in her first 14 events of 2014, she already had compiled 10 top-10s with a pair of wins, including the U.S. Women's Open.
"I've just been really struggling with my body and my health this year," she said. "It's been really frustrating that I felt like I was just getting over my illness and just got a little injured. So it's been a tough year in that sense.
"But golf-wise, I feel like it's always a learning experience, and I think I'm ready for some really good golf. I'm excited to get to every tournament venue. I think I'm doing the right things to get back to being fully healthy. So I'm just trying to be patient."
Wie's struggles with injuries have perplexed some, including television commentator and LPGA Hall of Fame player Judy Rankin.
"I'm just finding everything that goes on with Michelle a little bit mysterious to me," Rankin said last month on a Golf Channel conference call. "With a young, strong woman, something has to be figured out so that she is physically well and healthy where she doesn't miss any tournaments that she doesn't choose to miss.
"I would love to see Michelle Wie play to her potential and be as healthy and as strong as she can be."
Given how the spotlight burned on Wie as a teenager, particularly for playing against men in eight PGA Tour events between the ages of 14 and 18, one would expect, based on talent alone, that she would be on her way to a Hall of Fame career. Yet since her official LPGA rookie year of 2009, she has won four tournaments over seven seasons and is closing in on $5 million in career earnings.
Wie captured a pair of victories last year and pocketed a career-high $1.92 million, her first time in seven figures. However, entering the Women's Open, she has won $124,515 -- 58th on the money list -- with a tie for 11th at the Lotte Championship being her best finish.
Still, there is far more to Michelle Wie than golf. She juggled the LPGA and college and received her degree in communications from Stanford in June 2012. Her varied interests include cooking and art. She used to believe in the importance of planning out her life but now says, "I've just got to loosen up and live in the moment and not care, and I'll be happy."
As for her many hobbies, she confessed: "I've always been somewhat of a scatterbrain.
"I find it very important to always experiment to see what you like and what you don't like," she said. "I'm not afraid to fail and I think with cooking, with art, it's something I've always wanted to try. It's always fun to try new things."
Christina Kim, one of her best friends on tour, said she has admired Wie's personality and character.
"She doesn't allow people to bring her down," Kim said. "She's incredible. She's fun. She's a goofball. She's one of my best friends, and I would take a bullet for her. Who she is at her core has always been the same."
Another issue with Wie had been the influence -- called overbearing by some -- of her mother and father, Bo and B.J. The dynamic has changed a bit in recent years, especially after she moved into her own home in Jupiter, Florida, following her graduation. She often hangs out with many of the pro golfers who live around there, including Stacy Lewis and Rickie Fowler.
She said that she continues to see her parents a lot and that they travel together to almost every tour stop.
"My parents and I have a very close relationship," she said. "But you know, obviously I've grown up a lot. We don't have the same relationship that I did in high school. But it's good."
They certainly will be part of Wie's gallery in Lancaster, hoping for the solid play and the magic that characterized their daughter's first major title. Wie's game and health may not be ideal, but she wants to bring the same mind-set to the Open.
"I'm not going to treat it any differently," she said. "I think a lot of people are expecting me to do the same thing. I have high expectations for myself. But I'm going to treat it the same way."
Years have passed since Wie gained fame as a child prodigy on the golf course. While her life has, in her words, "hit a lot of speed bumps along the way," she is happy with where it is.
"I feel like a lot of great things have happened," she said. "I feel very, very fortunate. I can't complain. Life has been great."
This article was written by Joe Juliano from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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