SOUTHPORT, England — As much as Michelle Wie prefers to look forward, this is one week when it’s tempting to get caught up in the past.
That could include her recent tour of New York as the U.S. Women’s Open champion or a decade ago when the teen prodigy from Hawaii got her first taste of links golf along the Lancashire coast of England.
Both are relevant memories this week at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Wie is among the favorites when the LPGA Tour’s third major of the year gets underway Thursday at Royal Birkdale and not just because she won the last major.
Wie has two victories among eight top 10s in her last nine tournaments. She has played in the final group at both majors. Her unique, bent over “table-top” stance while putting has proven to be the perfect complement to her power. She has become a force in women’s golf, capped off by her two-shot win at Pinehurst No. 2.
She was introduced at her press conference as the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion.
“It’s never going to get old,” said Wie, smiling “I think it’s amazing that it will be there forever — my name will be on the cup. Once it’s engraved, it can’t really be taken back. It feels amazing. I’m extremely proud of myself.”
And now it’s back to work.
“I let myself really bask in it for a few days,” Wie said. “And after that ... just because I won a major, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to play well in the future. It doesn’t guarantee that I’m going to win the British or win anything.”
Wie made her links debut just down the road at Formby when she played in the Curtis Cup at age 14. A year later, in her final tournament as an amateur, she closed with a 69 at Birkdale in cold, windy conditions and tied for third in the Women’s British Open.
“I didn’t know what hand-warmers were,” she said. “And I remember playing with Catriona (Matthew) and I saw her with the hand warmers and I was like, ‘What is that? That is so genius.’ I have never been so cold in my entire life. That’s what I remember from the first Birkdale.”
The Women’s British Open returns to Royal Birkdale for the sixth time, and it’s enough to get the attention of every player — from defending champion Stacy Lewis to Laura Davies, the 50-year-old English star who has played them all at Birkdale.
A wet spring has made the links course lush. The course is already is 6,458 yards, which feels even longer at sea level and without getting as much roll in the fairways. And the wind has been ripping off the Irish Sea during the last two days of practice.
“Obviously, on a lot of these courses, you miss the bunkers,” said Matthew, who grew up playing links golf in Scotland. “But here, you’ve got to miss the bunkers and the rough. So I think you’re really going to have to play well to have a good score around here and especially if the wind blows.”
Davies said there were a few times during her pro-am round where a golf ball just a few feet off the fairway could not be found.
“Hit it straight,” she said. “You don’t really have to hit it massively long, but keep it in play and you’ve got a low number out there.”
Lewis is No. 1 in the world and the defending championship, finishing birdie-birdie at St. Andrews last summer to capture her second major. Royal Birkdale, regarded as the best of the English links, is nothing like the Old Course. The dunes along the Irish Sea are so expansive that it’s difficult to see the entire course. The greens are small. The pot bunkers effectively are one-shot penalties anywhere except around the greens.
“The biggest thing is that you have to really place yourself around this golf course,” Lewis said. “You can’t just get up there and rip driver. You really have to think your way around. St. Andrews had that, only you could get away with a little bit more there.”
Lexi Thompson won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, followed by Wie at the U.S. Women’s Open. It’s the first time in 15 years that Americans have won the first two majors of the LPGA Tour season. Beyond the majors, Americans have won 10 of 16 tournaments this year. They are Nos. 1 and 2 on the money list (Lewis and Wie) and occupy eight of the top 15 positions.
Wie will try to become the first American since Juli Inkster in 1999 to win back-to-back majors in the same season.
“I think it’s going to be just as hard as the first one,” Wie said. “Hopefully, it won’t take me quite as long. I’m not going to complain either way. It doesn’t change my views on anything. I’m still attacking the game the same way.
“I’m not looking at the game any differently. I’m not looking at myself any differently. It made me more motivated to go out and play better.”