Michelle Wie West on her golf comeback plan: I want my daughter to see me play
Michelle Wie West thought she would retire from golf when she had children. Then, she gave birth to her daughter.
The athlete, who played her first major as a professional when she was 13 years old, welcomed daughter Makenna in June—amid the coronavirus pandemic and about a year after she played her last tournament and then stepped back from the sport owing to injury.
The family milestone changed her view of her athletic future in two important ways. First, “When my husband and I decided we wanted to have kids, I’ve always had this fear that my body was going to let me down again,” Wie West says, referencing her wrist injury. “I didn’t have a lot of faith in my body. But going through a healthy pregnancy and a healthy labor and giving birth to a very healthy child—I definitely have this newfound respect for my body.”
Second, the athlete adds that raising a girl of her own motivates her to continue her career in the sport. “When I found out that I was having a girl, my whole perspective on my career and my life completely changed. Now my goal is: I really just want to show her that I can play at the highest level,” she says. “Now, everything I want to accomplish in my golf career from now on is really for her.”
Wie West is still navigating a future beyond the course; among other projects, she is dipping her toe into startup investing. Her first investment was in the fitness brand Tonal and her latest is in the beverage brand Oxigen.
Wie West spoke to Fortune about her goals as an investor, her future in golf, and her experience as a new mother. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Fortune: What interests you as an investor? What attracted you to these two companies as you were making your first bets?
Michelle Wie West: Health and lifestyle has been a huge part of my life. Being an athlete, I’ve always searched for things that helped me to perform better at a higher level or more efficiently.
Efficiency these days has definitely taken on a premium since I’ve gotten pregnant and now have a baby. Time is so, so precious. I thought time was precious to me before as an athlete, but as a new mom, it’s just even more so. I don’t have the time to waste a minute on anything, but I’m still trying to train and still trying to perform at a higher level and do my rehab with my wrist. I’m trying to find anything that can boost my energy.
What was your experience like with pregnancy, giving birth, and becoming a new mom during the pandemic?
It’s terrifying. Your baby being very high risk is even more isolating. Thankfully, we were really lucky to quarantine together as a family so the baby was able to see the grandparents. But not being able to really hang out with your friends while you’re pregnant, not being to have a baby shower, just those little stupid, silly things that actually don’t matter—looking back, it was just really isolating.
But I was very fortunate. The doctors and the staff at the hospital were so amazing. We weren’t able to leave the room at all for four days straight. I was really scared to give birth while wearing a mask—but I was really glad that I didn’t have to do that. For the most part, I was really happy that I felt pretty safe.
What are your typical schedule and lifestyle like right now, working on these projects, still in some degree of quarantine, and with your daughter?
A lot of Zoom calls. I’ve always kept my plate pretty full. Even when I played golf, I was in school at the same time. I always had more than one thing going. That’s just how I operate. But right now my life is just really dependent on her nap times. And she’s had, like, a pretty big four-month regression where naps really don’t happen anymore. I’m watching her try to go back to sleep right now.
How has your experience with injury affected how you thought about the new investment you made in Oxigen—the beverage brand’s slogan is “recover and rise”—as you start working with the company more?
With having an injury, I spent so many years really not feeling well. I needed more of a holistic approach to wellness. Sometimes, I was super, super strict on diet and whatnot. And now I’m taking more of a holistic approach where I make sure I put really, really good ingredients in my body.
As an athlete, how has childbirth and new motherhood affected or changed how you feel about your own body and what it can do?
I just have a high respect for my body. [After my wrist injury] there was definitely a time where I was very unforgiving to my body, I was just really disappointed by my body.
When my husband and I decided we wanted to have kids, I’ve always had this fear that my body was going to let me down again. I didn’t have a lot of faith in my body. But going through a healthy pregnancy and a healthy labor and giving birth to a very healthy child—I definitely have this newfound respect for my body, where I’m like, “Wow, I actually created her from scratch, from a couple of cells.” And that just blows my mind, it completely is so cool. And I really, really just respect my body so much.
How do you feel like the sport is treating female athletes who become mothers and who want to continue playing after going through pregnancy? Do you feel like there are the right measures in place, or is there more that golf as an institution should be doing?
I think that there’s a lot of recent changes that have been made that have been so wonderful for female athletes. In the past, it wasn’t as great. Recently, there have been a couple of pushes in our organization, with pregnant players, and players who are moms who stood up for us and said, “This is not right.”
Recently, they changed the maternity wear you get—and the whole year that you’re pregnant, you can play as many times as you want and it won’t negatively affect your ranking. And you also have two years afterwards to come back. So if you say, “I don’t want to play” for the first two years of your child’s life, then you can elect to do so—whereas before that was really not the case. Even with sponsors and whatnot, it’s gotten a lot better. Can there be more improvements made—in our organization and outside of athletes? Yes. But I think we’re moving in the right direction.
What other improvements do you think would make a real difference?
Our tour has a day care, where we can leave our kids. My husband, at his organization, they have a day care for us as well. But I hear my friends who aren’t athletes—they work in the corporate world—and I always thought that day care was free. I always thought it was just part of the company. And some companies do do that. But day care is just so expensive that, a lot of times, friends say they have to get a second job to afford day care. It makes them choose between having to raise a kid or to go to work.
I just hope that there are measures put into place where they don’t have to choose. I just don’t want that decision to be forced upon us. Sports organizations are definitely making a lot of big changes, to make our lives better and to make it easier. And I would love to see nonathletic organizations take that leap.
Over your professional career, do you feel like the amount of attention given to the women’s tour compared to the men’s has improved?
With tennis, you see a huge difference. In our sport as well—we’re definitely getting more coverage. Every year, we’re getting more tournaments added to our roster. Our purses are getting bigger. Are we making that huge, huge leap where we’re really closing the gap between the men? Probably not, but it’s a hard battle to be fought.
To get more attention—more time and coverage from the networks—it’s a long process. The gap is not going to be closed overnight. But we are making progress, and we can’t lose sight of that.
Are there other athletes who have forged careers in business and investing whom you’ve admired as you’ve thought about the next few decades of your own career?
The traditional route of being an athlete was to find sponsors. I have had these amazing long-term relationships with my sponsors. But more so now I see athletes really getting involved in the process and investing in companies that they believe in—and maybe they don’t have the marketing budget to afford to pay an athlete.
Serena Williams has made a lot of investments on her side. Steph Curry has an incredible portfolio. Draymond Green as well has a really cool investment that he’s made. I’m a total newbie in this, but just really learning what the process is has been so much fun.
Last year you said there was still so much you wanted to accomplish, speaking specifically about your golf career. What does that statement mean to you now, both in the sport and outside it?
It’s definitely changed now. With my injuries—before, it was just so disheartening to me. I would look down at the golf ball and be terrified. It was just so painful. I stepped away from the game.
There were definitely doubts—there’s obviously so much I want to accomplish in my golf game. It’s not something where I stepped away because I felt accomplished; just physically, I couldn’t do it anymore. And then I got pregnant.
I always was thinking that I was going to stop playing once I got pregnant. I filmed the [now defunct Quibi show Iron Sharpens Iron] with Kerri Walsh Jennings, and she has three beautiful kids and performed at the highest level. We’ve talked about how you can do it—it’s possible—and about the mothers that we have on our tour, and seeing how well they play, and how they balance everything.
Then when I found out that I was having a girl, my whole perspective on my career and my life completely changed. Now my goal is: I really just want to show her that I can play at the highest level. I can show her old coverage, or I can show her old YouTube videos, but it’s so different when she sees it with her own eyes—me training for something that I am really passionate about. Because one day I want her to throw herself into something that she’s really passionate about. Everything I want to accomplish in my golf career from now on is really for her.
A few months ago, you told the New York Times that you were keeping your eye on how the pandemic unfolded over the next few months as you considered a return to competitive play. How are you feeling about that now?
I would love to play a tournament before the year ends. I’ve been trying to train—I haven’t been able to do much—but I’ve tried to find free time that I can to train and practice. But, honestly, I thought I would feel a lot more comfortable flying with her at this point. I’m just not sure. It’s a day-to-day evaluation of how safe I feel. But I’m really hoping that there’s a breakthrough. I’m a very positive person, so I really hope that there will be a medical breakthrough very soon.
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