Free to be Wie, she clearly stands out above rest

In a competition where spirit and camaraderie rule the day, and nothing trumps team triumph, it takes a world-class athlete, galactic personality, and dominant performance to steal the show.

And that's the exact description of Michelle Wie this weekend at Rich Harvest Farms.

She separated herself from some of the best players in the world, on the biggest stage she has ever taken.

Not only did she overshadow the dramatic, 16-12 U.S. victory over Europe Sunday in the Solheim Cup, but Wie also shredded a brutal golf course that ate up and spit out some pretty big names in women's golf.

She was by far - by far - the best player in the tournament - on either team - paying back the enormous galleries that traveled with her and walked so many miles the last three days.

Her distance, precision and shot-making was long awaited, but more stunning was the personality that finally arrived, and may have changed forever the way fans, teammates and competitors view her.

"People have seen a different side of me here," Wie said. "I can't tell you how much fun this has been."

Protected and sheltered for so long, forbidden from being herself for a lifetime, this week her teammates brought out the kid in her. The 19-year-old was singing and dancing with the best of them, as if set free to be the child who never had a childhood.

And on the golf course? Her play revealed an adult who can beat any woman on the planet, with a ferocity and length that leaves you pondering if the men someday hold the ultimate challenge.

"This week has given me a great confidence boost," Wie said. "I feel very good about how I played here."

What we don't know is what Wie will do with the success she found in Sugar Grove, or whether she can find the same focus and desire when she returns to LPGA tournaments that don't offer this pressure, these crowds, or such meaning.

"I played great this week. Hopefully that will carry over," she said. "But you never know about golf. You can have a good week. You can have a bad week.

"But I know that I had fun this week. I know I tried my hardest."

By holding off one of the top players in the world, Helen Alfredsson, Wie finished 3-0-1, and reminded witnesses of the world's most famous golfer. She seems to be able to turn it on any time she needs a big shot, ordering up whatever's necessary to win the hole or save a par.

I asked her twice Sunday if this was indeed the best golf of her life, but she also showed a Tigeresque ability to hold a little something back.

"I don't know. Look at my record (here), I feel very good about it,'' she said. "I played with as much passion as I could, with as much desire and hunger as I could.''

On my third try, after the closing ceremonies, I asked if she would prefer I call this the best week of her life, or just the best golf of her life.

After pausing and smiling, she said, "Both."

This Michelle Wie, the one in the Solheim, reached a level of play forecast for her years ago, and this Michelle Wie could tear apart the LPGA Tour.

Perhaps as important, this Michelle Wie could draw crowds to a Tour struggling to stay alive, desperate to have her name atop leaderboards.

She is very long, strong enough to handle the roughest of roughs, she's mentally tough, fiercely competitive, and yet has never shown any real evidence of it before coming to Rich Harvest.

And maybe there's a reason for that.

She acted Sunday like a child who didn't want to leave the circus, wanted more ice cream and more dancing elephants, afraid of what was waiting for her when the tents are packed up and gone.

She talked incessantly throughout the weekend of how much fun she had, and it seemed fitting in with others was more important than the golf itself, which comes so easy to her.

Wie was ready for the party to start Sunday afternoon the moment she clinched her match, and we've no doubt she was the last to leave late Sunday night - or Monday morning.

Asked how she enjoyed her final match, Wie said, "It was great, but I kept looking around for my partner today and there was no one there."

Wie loves winning, yes, but you sense she loves more having friends and teammates who did not judge her or obstruct her.

"To have 11 other team members as great as these people," Wie said, "was just so fabulous."

Amid the celebration on the 18th green, her father, B.J. Wie, was firing away with his camera when the American den mother, Juli Inkster, hugged him and said, "Your daughter's great."

"Thanks," said B.J. Wie, "for taking care of her."

"Oh, we took care of her," Inkster replied with a smile, leading one to believe Michelle Wie's leash had never been so long.

And it makes you wonder what she might be able to accomplish with a clear head and the freedom to have fun.

If nothing else, if none of those questions are ever genuinely asked or answered, Wie can enjoy what she did this weekend.

"I gave it everything I had,'' Wie said. "I'm going to do that from now on. Whether the outcome is good or bad, I'm going to try and have fun and try my hardest."

Off the course, Wie's metamorphosis has to alter the public view of her as enigmatic and troubled.

On the course, and as a controversial captain's pick, she merely carried the U.S., giving them nothing but points and confidence. They wouldn't have won the 2009 Solheim Cup without her.

Whatever the future holds, Michelle Wie will always have that.

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