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The Education Of Michelle Wie

Continued (page 2 of 3)

Take the dog. Wie bought Lola, a Pomeranian, as a puppy two years ago and quickly grew attached. Her parents usually take care of Lola at home (Stanford doesn't allow pets in campus housing), but Wie brings the dog on most trips and breaks into a wide smile at any mention of her.

Or take the painting. Wie loves water color and black-and-white drawings and really does hope to corner Donald, an art major at Northwestern, and pick his brain. She also became more interested in sewing and cooking at Stanford.

This artistic bent surfaced when Wie and several friends from her freshman dormitory attended the Stanford-Notre Dame football game in November. Wie bought plain white hats, had them embroidered with "Stanford," made the school's "S" out of red glitter and passed out the hats to her friends. They had a blast.

One of those friends, Casandra Espinoza, calls Wie one of the most creative people she met in school. "At the end of the day, she's just our friend," Espinoza says. "I think the Stanford experience gave her a chance to just be Michelle. She has another life, but she has friends here who would be her friends either way."

Wie mostly kept her two lives separate, usually attending classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and practicing golf on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She prefers this sort of structured schedule, dating to a youth filled not only with golf and school but also tennis, baseball, swimming and ballet.

She typically skipped the spring quarter to focus on playing LPGA tournaments, orginally expecting to take six years to graduate. Then she realized many of her friends were graduating in four years and leaving Stanford last summer. Wie accelerated her pace, stayed in school for the 2011 spring quarter and took a full class load in the fall and again this winter.

Inevitably, her two worlds intersected. Sometimes, during tournaments in distant lands, Wie awoke at 3 a.m. to take a midterm. She often brought her laptop on trips and wrote papers late at night. The perpetual balancing act and travel schedule occasionally left her exhausted, but she wanted a Stanford degree.

Beyond the academic prestige, Wie embraced the social life. She enjoys being part of a large group, whether it's joining Espinoza and other friends in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl or joining Kim and other golfers for the Solheim Cup. She claims she will even miss the stress of final exams because students often gathered to study and commiserate together.

Michelle Wie winning the Canadian Women's Open
Wie lifting the CN Canadian Women's Open trophy in 2010--just moments after a bubbly bath from Christina Kim at St. Charles CC in Winnipeg. Photos by Darren Carroll/Getty.

Wie's Stanford years have made her realize she loves meeting new people, eating new foods, trying new things. Those discoveries might not help win more tournaments, but they matter to her. "I didn't go into college thinking, 'Is this going to help my game or not help my game?' " she says. "It's just something I needed as a person. ... Now that I'm going to be done, I'm more ready to fully commit to golf."

So after 4.5 years in college, she has a Stanford degree, friends for life, a deep reservoir of good memories, newfound respect from her parents, colorful hair and a cute dog.

What to make of Michelle Wie, the golfer?

She collected two LPGA wins during her college years, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November 2009 and the CN Canadian Women's Open in August 2010. Wie finished in the top 20 on the money list in each of her first three years as an LPGA member, showing impressive steadiness.

Then again, she didn't win last year (though she posted seven top-10s), and she struggled in her first two starts this season (T-38 in Thailand and 59th in Singapore). She played much better in majors as a 15- and 16-year-old (five top-fives) than she did the past three years (one top-10).

Wie offers no regrets about her forays onto the PGA Tour, where she made eight starts as a teenager (plus one on the Nationwide Tour), and she still dreams about playing in the Masters. But she repeatedly insists her prevailing ambition is to reach No. 1 in the women's world rankings. She is currently 20th.

"Given her physical ability, she still has the potential to be very good," says Kay Cockerill, the longtime tour pro and current Golf Channel commentator. "I just don't know how strong she is mentally or how passionately she wants to play the game. Does she want to get that little ball in the hole faster than anybody else, more than anybody else? That super-driven mentality is what you need, and Yani [Tseng] has it right now. I wonder if Michelle will ever have that.

"You can kind of look at her career and think it's maybe a clean slate--now her real pro career begins," says Cockerill. "At the same time, she's an old 22, with some positive experience and a lot of negative experience. She has a lot of mental baggage. I don't doubt she can get there [to No. 1], but I think it's going to be a challenge."

Cockerill saw Wie's passion once, during the 2009 Solheim Cup. Beth Daniel made Wie a captain's pick, and she responded by going 3-0-1 to help the U.S. win. She was emotional, engaged, enthusiastic and played brilliantly. "She was the unbeatable Michelle Wie," Cockerill says, "and we haven't seen too much of that."

David Leadbetter, her longtime swing coach, saw the burning drive between ages 15 and 18, when Wie repeatedly climbed into contention at LPGA majors. That drive landed on hold, in a way, during her time at Stanford. "I think the next two years will be very telling, to see how bad Michelle wants it," Leadbetter says. "She really enjoys the competition, and she enjoys winning. ... I can't be 100 percent positive, but I believe the burning drive is in there somewhere. She just has to pluck it out."

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