Posted: July 13, 2015 12:34 am
The crowd at Lancaster Country Club serenaded Michelle Wie with bursts of applause and shouts of encouragement as she limped up a long stretch of the 18th fairway Sunday toward the end of her final 18-hole round of the U.S. Women’s Open.
With the leaders of the Open at her back, and one of the toughest rounds she ever played almost behind her, Wie sank a short putt for a birdie to finish out an even-par round to stay at 2-under for the tournament, drawing more clapping and shouting and cheering from the fans gathered around her.
“If it wasn’t for the crowds and the fans today,” Wie said, “it definitely would’ve been tough. “They really pushed me forward, and I’m really grateful for that.”
Throughout the week, the fans – 134,016 of them – showed up to welcome Wie and her competitors to Lancaster. Wie played her practice round in front of more fans, she said, than she had ever seen on the Monday before a tournament. As the week continued, they gravitated toward her like Mayflies above the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge.
“This whole time, we’ve had no cameras here,” said Beth Hostetter, of Leola, from her perch above the fifth-hole’s green as Wie’s group approached in front of a five television cameras on tripods and a large gallery.
Many of the fans who followed Wie’s final round Thursday noted the 25-year-old’s lanky, but athletic, 6-0 frame, her unusual bent-over putting stance and her athleticism as factors in their fascination.
“She hits it just like a guy,” Solito Reyes, of Hoboken, New Jersey, said of Wie as she lined up her second shot en route to par on the par-5 seventh hole. “She was a child prodigy. She’s just likable.”
Wie walks the first fairway after a big drive. “She kept her head high,” said a voice in the vast gallery. #LNPOpen pic.twitter.com/4NtweHu2m0
— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) July 12, 2015
Wie made national waves when she became the youngest to qualify for a USGA women’s amateur competition(at 10) and an LPGA Tour event (at 12) and garnered national headlines when she missed the cut of the PGA’s Sony Open at Hawaii in 2004.
“They were talking about her being so good that she could play ith the men,” said Don Herman of Lancaster. “And then she fell to earth.” Wie won four LPGA Tour events, but none since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, battling injuries since she lifted the Harton S. Semple trophy in Pinehurst.
Entering the final day of the 2015 Open at 2-under, her round hit a snag when her tee shot on the eighth hole found its way, on one hop, inside the drawstring bag of Dawn Duvall of Vienna, Virginia, who was attending her third U.S. Open with her husband, Roy.
“I’m having trouble following them,” Duvall said of the shots coming off the eighth tee, “but I did follow hers the whole way.” Wie took a free drop en route to a bogey, joining her bogeys on holes 4 and 9 for a 3-over 38 on the front nine.
“She’s a big draw,” Duvall said of Wie, who stayed at the same hotel as the Duvalls at Pinehurst last year. “She always shows excitement and good sportsmanship. She’s very positive for the game.”
Wie demonstrated her role as an ambassador for the game with a polite wave and a nod to to the fans who applauded her after each hole and shouted words of encouragement as she traversed the Lancaster Country Club course. “What pushed me through the round today,” Wie said, “is, ‘You got this. Keep on going.’ Just hearing that, and the support that everyone gave today really got me through and kind of got me going on the back nine.”
Just wanna take a moment to thank everyone for all their support this week! Without the fans and volunteers relentlessly cheering me on, I would not have made it through the weekend. But you guys kept a smile on my face all week!! Lancaster, you ROCK! #USOPEN #USGA Ps. Really felt like my @nikegolf outfit game this week was on point ?
A photo posted by Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) on
At 4-over for the round through 10 holes, the hobbled Wie turned up her game. She birdied the par-5 13th hole and clanked the pin with a tee shot from a 2-hybrid on the par-4 16th hole.
“She has the potential to go on a Tiger (Woods) run,” Reyes said of Wie. “She’s got the skills. People are just waiting to see what will happen.”
Wie finished her day, and her stint in Lancaster, with a birdie on the par-4 18th hole.
“I was out there with the mindset that I wanted to make a charge out there today,” Wie said. “It was tough to do, but I have to say it feels really good to have gotten back to even par for today.”
Even after Wie left the course, her name lingered over Lancaster Country Club like the July humidity and the wafting cigar smoke and the buzz of excitement of the U.S. Women’s Open.
“When somebody says a girl’s going to play with the boys,” Herman said of Wie’s 2004 flirtation with the cut at a PGA event, “people take notice. She’s still in the American psyche because of that, I think.”
Tim Gross is a member of the sports staff. He can be reached at email@example.com or (717) 291-8666. You can also follow @ByTimGross on Twitter.