GLADSTONE, N.J. - After seven years of floating between part-time competition among the women and attention-grabbing participation with men, Michelle Wie appears, finally, to have settled in as a full-time LPGA Tour professional.
And that couldn't be better news for the women's tour, which needs all the attention and publicity as it can get.
The ShopRite LPGA Classic, which begins Friday at the Seaview Resort in Galloway, N.J., is one of 13 events to be played this year in the United States, a smaller-than-usual number that can be attributed to the economy and the alienation of sponsors by past commissioner Carolyn Bivens.
Golf fans are familiar with Wie. The tall 20-year-old resident of Hawaii has been in the public spotlight since competing in her first LPGA tournament at age 12 and winning the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at 13.
After playing in more than 60 LPGA events and several PGA Tour tournaments, Wie officially competed in 2009 as an LPGA rookie, reaped confidence and respect from her strong showing for the U.S. team at the Solheim Cup, and gained her first career victory.
More important, she is showing signs of fulfilling her abundant potential and becoming the dominant performer on a tour crying out for one since the retirements of Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa.
Wie, who has endorsement contracts with Nike, McDonald's, and Kia, said all the talk of her being No. 1 is "flattering" and "nice," but she says her expectations are higher than those of the fans.
"I'm working as hard as I can to win tournaments and to play well and to be that dominant player," she said last month at the Sybase Match Play Championship. "I think everyone is vying for that spot right now, and everyone is working extra hard. I'm trying to do my best."
Fine, but does she want to be the face of the tour?
"Yeah, for sure," she replied. "For sure."
Mike Whan, who took over as commissioner last October, appreciates the talk about Wie, although he thinks the battle among several players for No. 1 is more compelling than having one vault to the top.
"I don't know what you were doing when you were 20," Whan said to reporters. "But nobody was asking me whether or not I was living up to my potential at 20. Michelle is a dominant personality, meaning the media enjoys her, the fans enjoy her. She's definitely moved the needle when she's on top. I don't discount any of that.
"But at 20, I think nobody would hesitate to say that the best golf of her life is ahead of her. What the best golf of her life will be, I don't know and you don't know. That's exciting. But I have no concern about her timeline of where she is or where she should be."
Wie said her achievements last year gave her a new perspective on golf,
"There was a point where I worried so much about the future and the past and, 'Did I do this right?' and 'Did I do this wrong?' and 'What do I do now?' " Wie said. "It's tiring. You just can't think about all this other stuff because you start to lose your sense of the present.
"After I came out here [last year], I thought to myself, 'I just need to stop doing this. I'm just not happy.' I need to focus about right now and enjoying it and doing the best I can whether the outcomes are good or not. After I did that, I started to enjoy it a lot more. I feel like the results have gotten a little better."
Entering the ShopRite LPGA Classic, the long-driving Wie stands 15th on the money list with more than $229,000.
Last year also helped Wie in her relationships with the tour's star players.
Solheim Cup teammates Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer, past critics of Wie's choice to shun junior golf events in favor of the LPGA and rare PGA Tour opportunities, were the first ones to run on the green and give Wie a celebratory beer shower after she won last November at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
"The Solheim Cup was an amazing experience, a great bonding experience," she said. "I had a lot of fun. All the girls were great. . . . It's nice getting to know the girls out here. I didn't know them before and I had a certain thought about them, like they did about me probably. But it's really nice."
She said the real Michelle Wie laughs at her own jokes - "I'm kind of lame like that," she confessed - and loves to bake and sew. She's into leopard prints, even doing her fingernails in that style, and just got a puppy, which she named Lola Taco.
When she's not competing in golf, Wie majors in communications at Stanford. Because the university uses the quarter system, she's in school for two quarters at a time, from the end of September to the middle of March. She has two years remaining.
"I get to be a normal 20-year-old - well, a semi-normal 20-year-old - and I get to do things," she said. "It brings great balance to my life. . . . I think getting my college degree is as important as my golf. Walking down the aisle and getting my diploma is going to be amazing."
For now, Wie has settled on a career course, one that many says it the right one. Fans of the game and the LPGA couldn't be happier.
South Jersey woman in field. Oakcrest High graduate Joanna Coe shot a 68 on Seaview's Bay Course to become the top amateur qualifier for the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
A junior at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Coe is a two-time collegiate all-American.