A promising first day by the British and Irish contingent at the Ana Inspiration was overshadowed by the remarkable return of Michelle Wie West, the former girl wonder who has come back to competition following a two-year absence.
Wie West famously tied for ninth at this event as a 13-year-old amateur and 18 years later, returning as a mother, the Hawaiian showed she still has the star appeal to light up the season’s first major.
Nothing about her re-emergence at last week’s Kia Classic suggested she would feature on the Mission Hills leaderboard. She shot 81-74 and looked bereft at the scale of the challenge confronting her after maternity leave and an extremely close brush with retirement.
But at the course that did so much to establish her as a prodigy, Wie West rolled back the years to post a two-under 70 to stand in the top 20, four off the pace set by Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit.
“I am just happy to see my name on the first page of the leaderboard,” Wie West said. “That’s really special to me. Been a long time since I’ve seen that. I have a lot of great memories, my first one being 18 years ago.”
Wie West — who finished runner-up at the Ana in 2014, the same year as she won her only major to date, the US Women’s Open — revealed how near she came to putting away her clubs for good. In 2018, she underwent wrist surgery, married the Golden State Warriors director of basketball operations Jonnie West — son of NBA legend Jerry West — and figured that a career which was ridiculously hyped to emulate that of Tiger Woods, but inevitably fell some way short had petered to its finish.
“I thought I was done, especially when I found out I was pregnant,” she said. “I thought that cemented it. Then we found out Makenna would be a girl and that changed everything. I started thinking I wanted to show her in real-time that I play golf. It’s one thing to have her watch YouTube videos, and it’s another thing to have her watch you with her own eyes and see you work hard. It’s been a huge dream of mine.”
Of course, it will take a few years yet for Makenna — born last June — to understand what her mother is doing, but Thursday’s heroics suggested Wie West retains the ability if the hunger is present.
“It feels weird,” Wie West said about the memories of 2003. “You know, looking back, I was a kid. I still feel like a kid. Having a baby definitely puts a different perspective on everything. I’m more excited to go home and see her than I am about my round, to be honest.”
Charley Hull, Georgia Hall and Bronte Law all shot 69, with fellow Englishwoman Mel Reid on one-under. Ireland’s Leona Maguire is alongside China’s Shanshan Feng in second on five-under.