KAPOLEI, Hawaii (AP) — Michelle Wie began the week reminiscing about the first time she played on the LPGA Tour.
She was 12 and still wore braces when she earned a spot in the 2002 Takefugi Classic through a Monday qualifier. She had a swing so powerfully smooth that only weeks earlier Tom Lehman gave her the nickname "Big Wiesy" because she reminded him of Ernie Els.
"I didn't play very well. I was so star-struck on the range," Wie said Sunday. "I was like, 'This is so cool.' I was thinking I could never go back to junior golf after this."
More than 12 years later, Wie was in complete control of her swing in a strong wind at Ko Olina. She made up a four-shot deficit against Angela Stanford in eight holes, took the lead with a birdie on the par-3 12th and closed with a 67 late Saturday for a two-shot victory in the LPGA LOTTE Championship.
It was a significant win for the 24-year-old Wie.
She won for the first time since graduating from Stanford in the spring of 2012. Wie spent five years splitting her time between classes and the LPGA Tour, which would seem to make it difficult to fulfill her golfing potential. She won for the first time in nearly four years. And while it was her first victory in the U.S. — her other two were in Canada and Mexico — it happened on her home island of Oahu.
"I had so many family and friends come up and say, 'I waited 12 years for his.' And I was like, 'I know. Me, too," Wie said with a laugh, thinking back to her LPGA debut as a seventh-grader. "It's crazy how long it took. The last couple of years, I put so much pressure on myself to win. I knew I really wanted to play well. But this week I said, 'I'm going to go out there and put no expectations on myself and have fun.' And I think I did that."