CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu 15-year-old Michelle Wie announced her decision to turn pro during a news conference at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel yesterday.
Wie has Woods’ marketability
"Instantaneous worldwide appeal" is what sets the newly professional Honolulu teen apart from other good young golfers
The amateur records of Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie are nothing alike.
Woods whipped up on boys his age, finishing his career without pay by becoming the first male to win three straight U.S. Amateur titles. Wie sought out the best competition, which took her to professional tournaments from the time she was 12. She never won, but her feats are no less amazing.
The one thing they do have in common is their tremendous marketability.
"What's similar in her and Tiger is, they have instantaneous worldwide appeal," said Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf.
Dressed in hot pink Nike apparel, Wie became the richest female golfer yesterday before a crowded conference room when she announced she was turning pro, six days before her 16th birthday.
"I've just been thinking about it for a really long time, but it all came down to the last few months," Wie said. "I felt ready. I felt mature enough. I felt really comfortable ... I felt it was the right time."
Wie signed multiyear endorsement deals with Nike and Sony said to be worth as much as $10 million a year. Her first act as a professional was to give some of it back.
She pledged $500,000 to the U.S. Golf Hurricane Relief Fund, set up by the major golf organizations.
Wie is represented by the William Morris Agency and agent Ross Berlin, who said the young star is his only client.
"Michelle understands the responsibility that comes from such exposure," he said.
The 6-foot golf prodigy will carry only Nike clubs and wear the swoosh on her cap and clothing, with the Sony logo on her golf bag. Other companies are sure to follow in the Wie sweepstakes, banking on the Hawaii teen who has been competing against golf's best players since she was in the seventh grade with braces.
"She's the whole package. But it's all potential. It's all in front of her," Wood said.
Wie is already one of the most famous athletes in the world, commanding large galleries wherever she goes. She's young, talented, charismatic, photogenic and bilingual. Wie is fluent in Korean and is taking Japanese.
"She's just a great story. She's a great Nike story. If there's anybody that can personify 'Just Do It,' it's Michelle," Wood said.
But Wie must now deliver with major expectations placed on her shoulders.
"I realize there's higher expectations, but it's super exciting," she said. "Everything is at a higher stake and I'm really looking forward to it."
Wood said what excites him is that Wie has the potential to transcend the sport. And it starts with winning.
"They have to be a champion first," Wood said. "Michael Jordan wouldn't have transcended if he hadn't won championships. I don't think when Tiger turned pro, he had done that either. He has now."
But Wie has a long career ahead of her.
"There's a lot of time for her to accomplish amazing things," he said.
Wie doesn't have much time before being put under the spotlight. She makes her professional debut next week in the Samsung World Championship in California. Wie also will play the week of Thanksgiving at the Casio World Open in Japan, her sixth time competing against men.
All of this, and she still has aspirations to attend college.
"I'm definitely going to college and I'm definitely going to graduate," she said.
But Wie acknowledges she probably won't finish college in four years with her busy tournament schedule.
Wie isn't expected to join the LPGA Tour until she turns 18, although she can play up to eight of its events a year. She also will play a few times on the PGA Tour, and against men and women overseas.
She already has an impressive résumé even before being eligible for a driver's license.
Wie was runner-up at the LPGA Championship to Annika Sorenstam, and tied for third at the Women's British Open. She has made the cut in her last 16 LPGA events dating to 2003, and would have earned about $640,870 on the LPGA Tour this year had she not been an amateur. That would have put her 13th on the money list in only seven starts.
Wie has competed five times against the men, without making a cut -- three times on the PGA Tour, once on the Nationwide Tour and once on the Canadian Tour.
She shot 68 at the Sony Open as a 14-year-old, the lowest score by a female competing on a men's tour. She reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links this summer, three rounds away from her long-shot bid of getting into the Masters.
Born and raised in Honolulu to immigrant parents from Korea, Wie started playing golf at age 4, but didn't take lessons until about five years later and began practicing 3 hours a day after school, and 8 hours a day on weekends.
"The first time I grabbed a golf club, I knew I'd do it for the rest of my life," she said. "Some 12 years later, I'm finally turning pro, and I'm so excited."