There was some symmetry in Michelle Wie’s last round as a pro coming as Victory Wembanyama made his NBA debut for the San Antonio Spurs, albeit in a summer league game. Wie’s pro golf farewell at Pebble and the retrospectives dedicated to her have had me thinking about her career, and what we demand from our sports prodigies, all week. What will Wemby need to do to meet all the hype that’s been heaped on him?
Is it possible to say Wie’s career has been both unfulfilling and also an unquestionable success? Because I think that’s where I net out after reading and watching and thinking about it this week. It was a success. She made it. She did not wash out or implode like so many child prodigies in so many fields. There were many growing pains, literal injury pains, and self-inflicted mistakes. But she made it to the highest level and, for a while, stayed there. She also won a major. That was expected, maybe, given her immense talents. But making it and winning a major is still incredibly hard to do for anyone, and maybe sometimes even harder for those with expectations piled on them from childhood.
You could also say that Wie’s on-course accomplishments did not live up to expectations. A major win and five total LPGA wins are not the stuff of golf or sports legends. Perhaps Wie played some of her most enthralling golf early in her life and that threw off expectations. Whether she was playing with or competing against the best women or men as a 13 and 14 year-old, those early pops and shows of talent created Wie-mania. It’s incredible to look back at the proportion of women’s golf coverage during this time dedicated to Wie, and the fan interest that followed her (it was still following her on Friday night at Pebble). I wonder whether it would have been harder had she come on the scene now — given the ever-present amount of coverage and endless number of platforms that target all our stars and prodigies — or easier, given some of the empathy and education and space we’re hopefully more willing to give to talented kids.
Regardless, she created a kind of sensation we’ve not come close to approximating in women’s golf this century. Nothing has really compared and still doesn’t, which is why we cared about this farewell on Friday. Wie navigated it then and now. I think what I’ve found most impressive is how settled and happy she has seemed in recent years, and how contented she is with the full accounting of her life to this point. There are regrets but they’re not eating her up. She made it as a pro, won a major, and seems to have a great understanding of who she is and wants to be going forward. That sounds like an admirable existence.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.