Golf: Michelle Wie admits unfulfilled potential, eyes No. 1 ranking as she returns to defend HSBC Women's title

Michelle Wie prior to the HSBC women's championship at Sentosa Golf Club in 2016.
Michelle Wie prior to the HSBC women's championship at Sentosa Golf Club in 2016.PHOTO: HSBC GETTY IMAGES

SINGAPORE - She was just 16 when the women's world golf rankings were introduced in February 2006, but she had already turned professional four months back, signing sponsorship contracts worth more than US$10 million (S$13.6 million) a year.

Armed with a fluid golf swing, Michelle Wie was compared to top male golfers, earning her monikers such as "The Big Wiesy" (after Ernie Els "The Big Easy") and "the female Tiger Woods".

But the former child prodigy has hardly fulfilled her full potential.

The American won her first Major on her 40th attempt - the 2014 US Women's Open - and has only five LPGA Tour titles.

However, on her day, Wie can still be a contender, as she proved last year by winning the HSBC Women's World Championship at Sentosa Golf Club with a spectacular 45-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of the New Tanjong Course.

As she returns to defend her title at the US$1.5 million tournament from Feb 28 to March 3, the 29-year-old told The Straits Times in a phone interview on Tuesday (Feb 19) that her career has not exactly panned out the way she wanted.

"I don't think I have reached my full potential yet... hopefully, the best is yet to come," said Wie, the only child of immigrant parents from South Korea.

A bad fall in 2007 sparked a long battle against niggling wrist injuries - she has just recovered from her latest surgery in October last year.

Despite claiming her maiden LPGA Tour victory at the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Wie acknowledged that she has fallen short of the high expectations.

The former world No. 2 said: "Being able to graduate from college at Stanford was one of my biggest dreams and winning the US Open was also one.

"But there are a lot more things that I want to accomplish, so hopefully, there are more to come."

Turning 30 in October, she has wistfully seen 13 players reached the top of the world rankings. Legends like Annika Sorenstam and Ochoa have retired, while former top-ranked stars like Tseng Ya-ni and Shin Ji-yai are struggling to rediscover their mojo.

Becoming world No. 1 remains one of Wie's ambitions.

"Being No. 1 in the world is the most important thing to me," said the world No. 32.

"Obviously, I made mistakes in the past, and of course there are things I want to change but everything that happened, good or bad, has shaped me to become who I am. It's impossible to have a perfect career, but I feel like I've achieved many things. I feel very blessed with everything that has come my way.

"In order for me to become world No. 1, I just have to keep doing what I'm doing, be healthy, injury-free and hopefully that will happen. I feel great about coming back to Singapore; it's one of my favourite cities in the world. I've played there for many, many years and obviously coming back as a defending champion has a different ring to it, which is very nice."

Joining Wie in the stellar 63-player field in Singapore are 2009 British Open winner Catriona Matthew and China's up-and-coming LPGA rookie and Instagram sensation He Mu Ni, who received sponsor's invites.