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Michelle Wie Lays Out a New Goal: ‘Be Free and Have Fun’

As a carefree 13-year-old, Michelle Wie used the grand stage here in Rancho Mirage to declare her intentions to “go play L.P.G.A. full time and then try to go to the PGA.” It was 2003, and Wie played grown-up golf between giggling discourses on Oreo cookies and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Wie, 28, will make her 14th start at Mission Hills Country Club this week in the ANA Inspiration, the women’s first major of the year. Her performance now, she said, is fuelled by avocado toast. Her appearance in the tournament has always been marked by boundless public curiosity and burdensome expectations. But never before has Wie arrived at this point of the season with an L.P.G.A. victory already in her pocket.

Wie said her win this month at the Women’s World Championship in Singapore — her fifth over all and her first since the 2014 United States Women’s Open — had not increased her anticipation of the ANA.

“I look forward to this event every year,” she said Tuesday, as she prepared to seek her second major championship.

In contrast with her demeanor in recent years, Wie exuded a peaceful, easy feeling during her media availability, punctuating many of her answers with a laughter that called to mind the buoyant teen that she was before the game crippled her body and crushed her confidence.

She ultimately played in eight events on the PGA Tour, and made the cut in a men’s tournament on the Asian Tour. Wie has not crossed over since 2008, the year before she became a full-fledged member of the L.P.G.A. tour and won her first tournament. By most estimations, that victory was long overdue, and Wie’s career had been undermined by overreach.

After her recent win in Singapore, Wie conveyed a message to her management team: “The first thing I said to my agents and everyone was just, ‘Let’s just simmer down on the expectations and the hype and everything.’”

Wie still competes occasionally with men, but only informally and when she is home in Jupiter, Fla. She practices alongside the likes of Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, whose fearlessness in attacking the course has helped her reconnect with her younger, undaunted self.

“I think a lot on the golf course, I worry about the outcome,” Wie said. “The guys, they care, obviously, but they are a lot more aggressive. I’ve talked to a couple of them, and they said, ‘If it goes in the hazard, it goes in the hazard.’”

They approach golf “more like a game,” she said.

With her booming drives and towering goals, the teenage Wie attracted a huge following — and a sizable endorsement portfolio after she turned professional, just days before her 16th birthday. She was projected as the Tiger Woods of women’s golf, the transcendent talent who would transform the game, and she struggled under the weight of those expectations.

The joy with which she approached the sport dissipated over time, giving way to a world-weary drudgery. “I’ve always been an over-thinker,” Wie said, adding that as a youngster she “just masked it well.”

The road to adulthood can be rough for any adolescent, but especially one negotiating the path with the world watching, and critiquing every step.

“We accumulate fear, we accumulate overthinking,” Wie said. “Sometimes you have to knock it back down and just kind of be free and have fun.”

As a child, Wie idolized Woods, who is now her neighbour in Jupiter. And like him, she has come to inhabit a body troubled by overuse injuries, exacerbated by forceful golf swings. Since 2014, Wie has struggled with finger, hip, ankle, neck and wrist problems.

“Every time we see each other we list off all the things: How’s your ankle, how’s your back, how’s everything?” Wie said, referring to Woods. “It’s a 20-minute conversation, and then we can move on from there.”

“I told her when we played a couple weeks ago I wanted her as my Solheim partner, because she literally from 20, 15 feet, was making every single thing,” Lincicome added, referring to the biennial team event between players from Europe and the United States. “I was like, ‘I’ll drive it, you putt it, and we’ll win.”

Wie ranked outside the top 40 in putting on the tour’s last year, but is now tied for ninth. In Singapore she secured victory by sinking a birdie putt of at least 35 feet on the final hole.

Wie said her injuries, strangely, had helped make her a better putter. To stay healthy, she has scaled back her range sessions.

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