By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Michelle Wie has been playing LPGA Tour events since she was in the seventh grade, drawing the biggest galleries because of her youth and power, but earning little respect from players because of her preferential treatment.
In the 62 tournaments she has played over the last seven years, Wie received 53 exemptions or invitations.
The next time the 19-year-old from Hawaii tees it up, she finally can feel like she belongs.
Wie opened with three straight bogeys before settling down in blustery conditions Sunday for a 2-over 74, easily finishing among the top 20 players at the Q-school to become a card-carrying member of the LPGA Tour.
"It's a good feeling," Wie said. "I really earned it. I legitimately went through Q-school. I took my medicine. And I got it. It feels good. It's like high school graduation."
The valedictorian was former NCAA champion Stacy Lewis, who had to go through Q-school because the LPGA Tour does not count earnings from the U.S. Women's Open, where she tied for third in her pro debut. Lewis birdied her last two holes for a 69, giving her a three-shot victory over Amy Yang.
"I had the door shut on me a couple of times, but they can't do it anymore," Lewis said.
Wie said she will return to Stanford for the winter quarter, but plans a full LPGA schedule next year. Without being a member, she was limited to six LPGA events, plus the U.S. Women's Open and Women's British Open.
"I play whenever I want now, not when I have to play, or only six tournaments," she said. "I can pick and choose. I might play two in a row, three in a row, and have some momentum. I really like this game, and I want to play a lot. I'm going to take advantage of this card."
But she hasn't ruled out playing against the men.
Wie has not made the cut in eight tries on the PGA Tour, where she twice shot 68 in the Sony Open to set the record for lowest score by a female competing against the men. She has played six other men's events, making only one cut in South Korea.
"I still want to purse that," she said. "I'm the kind of person where if I start out and want to pursue it, I'm going to do it. I've always wanted to do it since I started golf."
Next up is two days of LPGA orientation, a final at Stanford on Wednesday, then home to Honolulu for the holidays where she plans to "be a beach bum for seven days."
Wie plans to returns to Stanford for the winter quarter.
All that mattered on Sunday, where the 15 mph wind and temperatures in the 50s made for a chilly start, was finishing in the top 20. Wie figured she was in good shape after settling down with a diet of fairways-and greens, but she still felt anxious walking toward the 18th green and looking at the lone leaderboard on the Champions course at LPGA International.
"I was like, 'I just need to see three letters on that leaderboard,"' she said.
The name "Wie" was toward the bottom, hidden by a gallery never before seen at LPGA Q-school.
As much as Wie needed her membership card, the LPGA Tour desperately needs a player like Wie, especially with Annika Sorenstam stepping away from competition. The gallery was close to 500 people, enough to surround the 18th green when Wie knocked in a 4-foot par putt to complete her most important test in golf.
She lightly hugged Lewis and Yang, then embraced caddie Tim Vickers, who is training as an instructor at the David Leadbetter Academy. Given her history, the card wasn't secured until Wie signed her card. She was disqualified from the State Farm Classic in July, one shot behind going into the final round, when it was determined she had left the scoring area without signing her card after the second round.
"If I had signed that card, I wouldn't be here," Wie said with a laugh.
It was one of several dark moments over seven years, although the low point came last summer when she continued playing while recovering from wrist injuries. She was roundly criticized for withdrawing from the Ginn Tribute on the verge of shooting an 88 and facing a year suspension, then showing up on the practice range of the next tournament that weekend.
But after a year of fractured wrists and shattered confidence, Wie made a remarkable recovery.
"I closed my eyes, I closed my ears to everything," she said. "It was a tough period. This seems like the world for me. I've come from really far below, and it feels like it's a clean slate. It took a long way to get here, but I feel really good about it."
She is not about to look back.
It seems so long ago when Tom Lehman nicknamed her the "Big Wiesy" because her swing reminded him of Ernie Els; when she was atop the leaderboard of three straight LPGA majors at age 16 without winning; when she reached the quarterfinals of the men's U.S. Amateur Public Links as a 15-year-old during an unfathomable quest of qualifying for the Masters.
With an LPGA card in hand, Wie is all about the future.
"You will never be who you were when you were 14 or 15," she said. "You move forward. I'm a completely different person now."