elle Wie was perhaps the game's most extraordinary thirteen-year-old. She had a swing looking as close to Ernie Els as Adam Scott’s was to Tiger Woods. She smashed it off the tee and almost made the cut in the Hawaiian Open. The Hawaiian Open on the men’s tour.
There were high finishes when she was still in her mid-teens in major championships and no one doubted she would come to dominate the women’s game.
Instead, in the intervening years she struggled to force her presence and her obvious talent on the tour. Others played better including the Korean generation starting with Se Ri Pak and they continue to uncover brilliant players.
Wie though kept working and she came down to play the Australian Open in 2012 at Royal Canberra. She missed the cut, a poor result for her talent, but the good shots she hit were of the highest quality. Surely, I thought, she can’t play poorly forever?
The next time I saw her play was fourteen months later at the first major championship of this season in Palm Springs. Lexi Thompson beat her into second place on the final day but it seemed blindingly obvious she was, if not the best, one of the very best players there.
Stacy Lewis, Jessica Korda and Lydia Ko all won between Palm Springs and the U.S Open at Pinehurst but in the sandhills of North Carolina Wie finally did what she had been threatening for a decade.
Perhaps no player, man or woman, had ever been the subject of so much expectation or criticism in the years between thirteen and twenty-three and Pinehurst was her salvation.
She played brilliantly on a course set-up perfectly to reward both imaginative and precise play and whilst Lewis’ closing two birdies and Wie’s double bogey at the 16th made it close the Hawaiian was the dominant player the entire week.
This week Wie is in Southport, a seaside town half way up the West Coast of England, for the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale. It is the favourite links of the majority of tour pros, presumably because it’s the ‘fairest’ of all the British links.
There are few of the unpredictable bounces one finds at Troon, Royal St George's or St Andrews. Almost all the shots from the fairways are played from relatively level lies and the greens, the remodelled 17th aside, are never going to insight any controversy.
The weather is the major determinate of how the course will play and like all the links, with the possible exception of Carnoustie, the golf isn’t so difficult when the wind is down. If you make them hard when there is no wind they are sure to be all but unplayable when the flags are flapping hard.
Of course, being built in the dune land linking the sea to the farmland beyond, the links are almost always influenced by the wind and no one on the women’s tour hits low stinging bullet tee shots like Wie. In Palm Springs and at Pinehurst she beat down on the three wood from the tee sending shots out barely more than head height and when the wind gets up it will be a most comforting of weapons to have in the bag.
Karrie Webb remarkably is still the best of the Australian women but the play this year of eighteen year old Minjee Lee suggests Webb’s two-generation responsibility as our top player is soon going to pass to Lee and Su-Hyun Oh, two teenagers for whom Webb has the highest admiration.
Lee had a legitimate chance to win the US Open and she was in the top ten last week at the European Tour event in London. Oh, too, played well in London then drove the four hours on Sunday night to Southport and qualified the next morning on the Southport and Ainsdale links. From personal experience I can tell you that is not something you do for fun.
Australians have always had a good time of it at Birkdale with Peter Thomson winning his first Open Championship there in 1954 and his last in 1965. Graham Marsh almost won the 1983 Open when he finished with a brilliant 64 and Ian Baker-Finch had the ball on a string over the final 36 holes in 1991.
Maybe Webb can add to our long history of success at Birkdale but she, and the rest, will all be aware of the play at the most talented player in today’s game. It took her a while but presumably Michelle Wie would concede it was well worth the wait.