GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Michelle Wie is only 24 years old, yet has been a focus of the golf world for almost half of her life starting with her attempt in 2003 to qualify for the PGA Tour's Sony Open in her home state of Hawaii.
Tall with a powerful swing, Wie appeared destined to become the LPGA's answer to Tiger Woods. But she experienced her share of ups and downs. She juggled her career and being a student at Stanford quite admirably but slumped after she graduated in 2012. One year ago, she was ranked 100th in the world.
This week, she returns to the ShopRite LPGA Classic at the Jersey Shore in the middle of her best year in quite some time. She is second on the tour's money list, ranked 10th in the world and owns seven top-10 finishes in her 10 tournaments in 2014, including her third career victory.
Wie has traveled quite a road, most of it in full view of the public.
"I definitely think I grew up a lot faster," Wie said Wednesday. "I kind of had two sides of me. When I was at school, I was a completely immature 13-year-old, and when I was out here, you learn to speak in front of the press and to be around older players and pro-am partners. So I definitely felt like I grew up.
"It was tough at times. It wasn't all easy. But at the same time, I think being at such a young age, it definitely gave me a lot of opportunities and I'm forever grateful for that."
Wie received a sponsor's exemption to this event in 2003. That same year, she became the youngest player to make the cut at an LPGA tournament, won the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship and competed in the U.S. Women's Amateur at Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne.
But she also attracted criticism for competing in tournaments against men, which she did 14 times on various tours while making one cut. She gave that up in 2009 when she joined the LPGA Tour.
"I'm not saying that every decision I made was perfect and I made no mistakes," she said. "But I'm glad I made those mistakes because I learned so much from them. I think that I appreciate everything so much more just because I went through such a big low. So I'm not taking anything for granted.
"Just playing well, being healthy, everything, I'm so much more grateful for it."
Wie seems happier these days. She loves that her hard work is paying off on the golf course. She leads the tour in subpar rounds (34 of 40) and in greens in regulation (79.6 percent) and is second in scoring average (69.475).
"I've put in a lot of hours, a lot of -- I know it's a cliche -- sweat, tears and blood into it," she said. "But it's fine. I definitely feel like I haven't peaked yet. I just want to take small steps every day, get a little bit better and definitely don't slack."
One of Wie's four top-10 finishes in 2013 came on the Bay Course at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. She is eager to get back out there when the tournament begins on Friday.
"It's a great golf course," she said. "It's not your really easy golf course. The heather is up this year. The rough is up. It's in great condition this year again. It just depends on the weather but I'm really excited for this week."
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