Kraft Nabisco to invite Wie, but the rest is a sweepstakes
PALM DESERT, Calif. » LPGA Tour officials have been looking at the criteria for the Kraft Nabisco Championship over the last few weeks. All they need now is time to meet with everyone involved before announcing Michelle Wie will be eligible for the first major of next year.
"I've been told they're going to work to get her in," said her agent, Ross Berlin.
Wie almost certainly will be joined at Mission Hills by Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang, all of whom are otherwise eligible because of high finishes in the majors.
The problem was language in the contract that required them to be LPGA Tour members. Pressel cannot join the tour until her 18th birthday in May, while Wie has no intentions of joining for two years.
But LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens said last week that the Kraft Nabisco contract is 20 years old and needs to be updated, adding that "I'm fairly certain" Wie will be allowed to play.
Tour officials looked closely at the spirit of the contract, and realized there was some flexibility in the exemptions Kraft Nabisco typically doles out in the limited-field tournament. Rob Neal, vice president of tournament business affairs, said the Kraft contract won't be changed but will be updated to accommodate Wie and Pressel.
"This is an unprecedented situation," Neal said, referring to qualified teenagers who have turned pro without being LPGA members. "The intention is they would love for these players to get in. It's really sitting down and making sure the spirit of the contract is met as we define the criteria into 2006."
The rest of Wie's schedule might not be so simple to figure out. She is allowed six LPGA Tour exemptions -- that doesn't include the U.S. Women's Open or the Women's British Open -- which could turn into a sweepstakes because of Wie's popularity.
Tiger Woods brought financial gain to PGA Tour events he played when he was living off sponsor exemptions, but he was trying to make enough money to get his card without going to Q-school. Woods needed those tournaments as much as they needed him.
That's not the case with Wie, who doesn't plan to join the LPGA Tour until she's 18.
Does she stay loyal to tournaments that have given her exemptions, such as the Wendy's Championship, Safeway International and Kingsmill? Or does she look at tournaments with the best fields and biggest purses that fit around a complicated schedule?
"We have close relationships with a lot of sponsors that have helped her before," said her father, B.J. Wie. "It will be a tough decision. Her school schedule comes first, but sometimes we will feel obligated. She only has six choices."
One casualty could be the Safeway International, which will be played March 16-19 and is the week before Wie goes on spring break. The week after her break is the Kraft Nabisco.
As for the rest of the year? Berlin said they have not decided where she is playing on any of the tours, although he expects her to play between 11 and 15 events.
Women's World Cup: Moving up to No. 2 on the LPGA Tour money list gave Paula Creamer the first shot at representing the United States in the Women's World Cup next year in South Africa.
The 19-year-old rookie doubts she will make up her mind until the season-ending ADT Championship next month -- not only whether she plays, but who would be her partner. If she declines, the choice goes to Cristie Kerr.
Annika Sorenstam confirmed she would play, taking Liselotte Neumann as her partner.
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Despite winning 64 tournaments, Annika Sorenstam has taken a backseat to Michelle Wie as far as publicity.
Annika lets clubs do the talking
Sorenstam keeps getting the wins while teen queen Michelle Wie gets the hype
PALM DESERT, Calif. » Annika Sorenstam must be wondering what she has to do to get noticed.
All she did at the Samsung World Championship was remind anyone watching why she rules her world. Despite a double bogey on the last hole, she won by eight shots. And her eighth victory of the season -- no one else has won more than twice -- ensured Sorenstam will be the LPGA Tour player of the year for a record eighth time.
But she will have to settle for the hardware, not the hype.
Because even after one of her most dominant victories of the year, Sorenstam was a forgotten figure before the champagne was chilled.
The buzz at Bighorn was -- and still is -- about Michelle Wie.
Sorenstam walked quietly into the desert night with her 64th career victory.
Wie was surrounded by her parents, sponsors, family friends, security and tournament officials who ushered her past a dozen photographers into a golf cart after getting disqualified for taking a bad drop.
Sorenstam can understand getting ignored because of Tiger Woods, simply because people pay more attention to the PGA Tour and Woods has become the most famous athlete in the world.
The star power in women's golf now belongs to a teenager whose legend is built around power, potential and big dreams, with a marketing appeal that required a signature on two endorsement contracts to become the highest-paid woman in golf.
With the crystal trophy at her side, Sorenstam dropped subtle hints Sunday evening that winning the Samsung World Championship was important "for many reasons," not the least of which was upstaging Wie. The 35-year-old Swede is comfortable with who she is and what she has done.
But every superstar has an ego, and Sorenstam is no different.
"I'm very competitive," she said. "I want to play well when everyone is talking about someone else."
Sorenstam is used to hearing her name mentioned when people talk about golf stardom, especially during her incomparable success over the last five years -- seven majors, 41 victories, nearly $12 million in earnings. And perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is finishing in the top three 63 percent of the time.
It's not always about her, of course.
"Tiger is the only one I can think of," Sorenstam said when asked the last time she wasn't part of the conversation. "Maybe because this is the LPGA, it seems like it's been more about Michelle than Tiger."
Wie brings notoriety, no matter what she does or where she goes.
People want to watch her.
The crowds at Bighorn typically are sparse because of the searing desert heat and a hilly course designed for golf carts, yet Wie had the largest galleries throughout the week. Even though she already had played 24 times on the LPGA Tour since she was 12, her professional debut was accompanied by the kind of hype Woods got when he turned pro.
She was on the cover of Fortune magazine. More than 225 media credentials were issued, so many that tournament officials had to expand the press tent.
The room was packed whenever she was in there, especially late Sunday evening when she pulled off her most impressive feat at Bighorn -- standing firm about her drop while showing respect for the rule that got her disqualified.
Wie had to forfeit her fourth-place finish and first tournament paycheck of $53,126, although the money doesn't mean anything. She already has contract endorsements worth $8 million to $10 million, and it's not like Wie needs the LPGA earnings to get her card. She doesn't plan to join the LPGA Tour for two more years.
What she gained from her loss was even more exposure.
And that pushed Sorenstam further into the background of a sport that, for the moment, is all about Wie.
About the only people who truly appreciate Sorenstam are her peers.
"When Annika comes to play, Annika comes to win," Lorie Kane said after she finished her round Sunday, the scoreboard behind her on the 18th showing Sorenstam up by 10 shots early on the back nine.
"It doesn't matter who else is playing. When she tees it up, she means business. That's why she is one step ahead of all of us."
Sorenstam insisted there was no message sent at Samsung, although 19-year-old Paula Creamer thought otherwise. Creamer already has taken some of the Swede's spotlight because of her moxie, her good looks, her stellar play at the Solheim Cup and the American flag next to her name.
She was a footnote at Bighorn, eight shots behind in second place.
"Annika was just probably sending a statement to the world saying, 'I'm still here. I'm still the best player,"' Creamer said.
Sorenstam says she is motivated when the sun rises, that no one pushes her harder than herself. Even so, she has noticed the strongest youth movement on the LPGA Tour in 25 years, and it has her attention.
"I know the young ones are going to take over eventually, there is no doubt about it," Sorenstam said. "I love the position I'm in, and I'm not going to let it go too easily."
It might keep her on the LPGA Tour long enough to break Kathy Whitworth's record of 88 career victories. Sorenstam is at No. 64, and at this rate could break the record in three years.
Whether anyone would notice remains to be seen.