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The barbecue plans complete—beef burgers wound up being served—Wie's friends began wandering off to their various commitments, which included class, hot yoga and practice (football, lacrosse). They parted with hugs and a singsong farewell of I love you/I love you, too. (The hulking Mabry only got the hug.) As Wie cruised across campus to the gym she bumped into a half-dozen other pals along the way, instantly falling into rapid-fire conversations about everything but golf.
"I kind of have two different lives," Wie said later, curled up on a chair in her deserted dorm room, munching on an apple and vigilantly monitoring the flurry of incoming calls, texts and e-mails on her iPhone. "I love golf, but it's not the only thing in my life."
Says one of Wie's closest Stanford friends, Casandra Espinoza, "To be honest, I completely forget she's a pro golfer. Then we'll be out to dinner in Palo Alto, and when people come up to ask for an autograph, it's always jarring. It's a reminder she has this global following, even though she's just Michelle to us."
Wie is in her third year at Stanford. She is a full-time student during the fall and winter quarters, from late September to mid-March; in the spring she takes a leave of absence to allow for more tournament golf. Wie is a sophomore academically but seems determined to catch up, as she is planning to take 20 units for the upcoming winter quarter toward her communications degree. Wie carries a 3.4 GPA, and there is zero doubt she will graduate within the next couple of years. "There are a lot of scholars in my family—it's very intimidating," she says, noting a Master's and two Ph.D.'s among her father and his siblings. "I'm definitely not going to be the only one in the family without a college degree. I also think it's an important message to send to kids, that you can be a dedicated athlete but also be serious about your education."
Wie the student and Wie the golfer came together as never before at last month's Lorena Ochoa Invitational, in Guadalajara, Mexico, where she shuttled between books and birdies to outdistance a stacked field and earn her first, long-awaited LPGA victory.
Tournament cameos during the fall and winter quarters can be complicated. In Mexico, Wie began and ended every day with a couple hours of studying. "Stressing about school keeps me from stressing about golf," she says with a laugh. Following a third-round 70 that tied her for the lead, Wie stayed up late crunching numbers for a statistics course. The next morning she slaved over a communications paper that she has given the working title, How Google Is Making Us Stupid. Then she went out and played the most important round of her life.
The narrative of Wie's pro career—which began four years ago, when she was a junior at Honolulu's Punahou School—had a main theme: an inability to win a tournament despite her extravagant talent, providing easy fodder for a large chorus of detractors. But 2009 was Wie's first season playing a full LPGA schedule, and it was a journey of self-discovery. Before leaving for Guadalajara, Wie acknowledged that she, too, was vexed by the victory drought. "I've been trying my best to figure it out, and I think what it comes down to is, I needed to believe in myself a little more," she said. "So now when I play, I'm putting myself out there more and really putting myself on the line. The stakes are higher for me, but I'm O.K. with that. I'm so focused on winning and to get that victory [that] I have to give it everything I have. There's no holding back anymore."
During the final round of the Ochoa Invitational she played a series of fearless shots to seize control of the tournament and then, with a handful of players lurking, Wie ground out five crucial pars in a row to take a one-stroke lead to the par-5 18th at Guadalajara Country Club. "I was just loving the competition and the pressure and really embracing it," she says. "I was having fun and just being myself." Lying 2 in a bunker 30 yards short of the 18th pin, Wie produced a defining shot, stopping her pitch inches from the hole to wrap up the victory, a play she accurately describes as "pretty damn awesome."
It was a deeply personal triumph, and Wie was particularly excited by all the congratulatory texts and Facebook messages from her Stanford friends, many of whom had gathered together in the dorms to watch the telecast of the final round. For a few it was the first time they had ever seen her swing a golf club. "I think they finally understand what it is I'm doing when I disappear from campus," Wie says.
Her idea of a big blowout celebration was to treat a handful of pals to a meal at a churrascaria in Palo Alto. Wie may have finished 14th on the LPGA money list with $918,659, but she's as frugal as any other college kid. Says Essig, "We've been wanting to eat at this Brazilian restaurant for a long time, but it's kinda pricey so we decided we needed to wait for a special occasion."