PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — There was no other way it could have ended.
After a gloomy week at Pebble Beach, where Michelle Wie West struggled to find the bottom of the cup, the 30-foot par putt on the 18th green — the final one of her career — had no reason to drop. And yet, the ball kept rolling, then trickling and eventually, falling.
All Wie West could do was laugh. This wasn’t exactly the ending she envisioned — one where she lasted until the weekend, played well and maybe even contended at her final U.S. Women’s Open in her final tournament ever — but it was the ending she got and one more lasting memory in a career that has spanned decades.
“The game is a funny game,” Wie West said after posting a two-day score of 14 over par (79-79) and missing the cut by 8 shots. “Making that long putt on 18 definitely was a sweeter sendoff.”
Wie West said she had been fighting emotions since the first tee Friday, holding back tears and awaiting the final moments that would arrive. As she stood on the 18th tee behind her husband and caddie, Jonnie West, she took a few deep breaths and held back tears just before launching her last tee shot into the fading light.
Next to her, three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Annika Sorenstam, who also was likely playing in her final major championship, asked her son to take a picture of her and her husband and caddie, Mike, on the 18th tee.
Everyone was trying 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 all at once.”
Then, the walk down the 18th fairway and up to the green came. As Sorenstam’s son walked with the group, Wie West sought out her mom, who was pushing a stroller with Wie West’s 3-year-old daughter, Makenna, in it. She was sleeping.
After Wie West made the long putt and walked off the green to another ovation and a bouquet of flowers from USGA CEO Mike Whan, Makenna woke up. Wie West immediately swooped her up and carried her from interview to interview, her presence serving as another reminder of the life Wie West was now choosing after decades of dedication to the sport that had brought her here, 2,400 miles across the ocean from her native Honolulu.
“I would have loved to have played better, but this whole experience was truly remarkable,” Wie West said. “It was great to have my final round here at Pebble Beach.”
The setting befitted a storied career marked by many historic firsts that Wie amassed over her years in the game. Though she had announced her retirement ahead of last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, Wie West was not going to miss out on a finale that coalesced Friday on one of the most famous holes in the world with a memorable final shot that will play in highlight reels to come.
“The Public Links was the first tournament I played on the mainland,” Wie West said last year. “And the U.S. Open was definitely going to be last.”
That amateur Public Links tournament in 2000 was Wie West’s first historic endeavor into the golf world. She was 10 years old. Two years later she became the youngest ever to qualify for an LPGA Tour event. A year later, she won the Public Links at 13, becoming the youngest woman or man to win a USGA event. How did she follow that up? By playing in a men’s event (the 2004 Sony Open via a sponsor’s exemption), shooting 68 and missing the cut by only a stroke.
Wie West went on to play in a total of six PGA Tour events, and while she turned pro in 2005 — prompting an onslaught of major sponsorships and worldwide attention — she wasn’t able to gain LPGA membership until 2009 due to her age. By then she had already played in six U.S. Women’s Opens and 16 major championships and had seven top-10 finishes to her name.
From 2009 on, Wie West won only five times on the LPGA Tour, including the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, which represented the pinnacle of her long career. That year was the first time the women played the U.S. Open on a venue the men also played the same year.
This year, the significance of a long overdue women’s major at Pebble Beach represented a fitting ending for Wie, who was not only a trailblazer for women’s golf but also a phenomenon who pushed the game to think outside its preconceived barriers. Her entrance into not just the women’s golf world, but the men’s too, required not just a boldness that Wie West said Tuesday she hopes is part of her lasting legacy, but also a burden that no one individual should carry. And yet in many ways, because of her larger-than-life entrance into the sport, Wie West did.
It’s why even though the on-course results may have never matched the hype and anticipation that surrounded her in her early years, her influence on the game is still palpable. Several of the players in this year’s tournament have broken her records after qualifying or playing in tournaments at even younger ages than she did.
“I’m proud of being fearless at times and just doing what felt right,” Wie West said Tuesday of her career. “I hope that I inspire a lot of other girls to make bold and fearless decisions and choices in their careers, as well.”
Though Wie West is leaving the game — she made a point to say she likely won’t touch her clubs for a while — she did say 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 will miss, but it will remind her of something else she expressed after her round Friday.
“I still love the game of golf,” she said. “But yeah, it’s going to be strange. It’s definitely a strange feeling. But it feels great.”
For now, though, there were no more putts to hit, no more interviews to give. As the sun finally appeared and gave Pebble Beach some of its glow, Wie West picked up her daughter, stood next to her husband and began walking away. The rest of her life had officially begun.