Wie’s golfing victories should engender pride
Hawaii's homegrown golfing sensation Michelle Wie announced that she is turning professional.
THE pragmatic decision for Michelle Wie to depart from amateur golf before her 16th birthday, becoming an instant millionaire, will cause some resentment among other golfing pros, but it will be temporary. That will change after she begins winning LPGA tournaments. Grumbling by men should end once she makes the weekend cut to play the final rounds of a PGA event.
Wie has taken a different course than those taken by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, who dominated men's amateur golf before turning pro, or 17-year-old amateur Morgan Pressel, who has won five straight American Junior Golf championships. Paula Creamer registered 11 junior golf championships and has won three events since turning pro last December at age 18.
The Punahou junior, winner of the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, instead has focused on competing in professional tournaments, accepting sponsors' exemptions motivated by her enormous public appeal.
At the men's 2005 John Deere Classic, a television audience that was up 54 percent from the previous year was attributed to her presence. As such prominent golfers as Phil Mickelson and Veejay Singh have come to understand, that benefits the PGA.
The appeal is due not only to Wie's smooth, 300-yard drives but her good looks and poise. What has been called the "it" factor put her photograph on the cover of this month's Fortune magazine and has brought endorsements estimated at $10 million from Nike and Sony.
The endorsement amount is nearly twice that of top-ranked golfer Annika Sorenstam and is third among women athletes, behind tennis' Maria Sharapova's $16.7 million and Serena Williams' $11.6 million. Wie's forthcoming endorsements in apparel, jewelry, automobiles -- she will soon get her driver's license -- and other markets could soon surpass them. Hollywood's William Morris Agency represents mainly actors and actresses but also counts Wie, Williams and a few other sports figures among its clients.
"People who don't care about golf or even sports will know her name, in the way they know Joe Montana or Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods," Katrina Brooker wrote for Fortune.
The Wie family would have been derelict to ignore that phenomenon. The Wies wisely have devised a way to capitalize on it while accommodating Michelle's educational goals. She will continue to accept sponsors' exemptions during her final two years of high school and then plans to take a reduced college course load that could allow time for her to compete regularly on the LPGA tour.
Wie generously gave $500,000 from her first paycheck to the U.S. Golf Hurricane Relief Fund, saying she believes in giving back to the community. Her father, B.J. Wie, told Fortune that her income will be put into a trust, invested conservatively, until she turns 18. The family knows what it is doing.