Sony banks on Wie to carry tournament
The PGA Tour event extends an invitation to the teen to participate for the third time
Maybe they will come to Oahu one of these years. But no one's counting on Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who annually bypass the Sony Open in Hawaii, to magically appear at Waialae Country Club. With that in mind, Sony, the PGA and the state of Hawaii are banking on the drawing power of a 16-year-old girl to make up for their absence.
Yesterday's announcement that Sony extended its sponsorship of Hawaii's 40-year-old PGA Tour event for four years through 2010 was coupled with an oh-by-the-way that Michelle Wie had committed to accept a sponsor's exemption to play in her third Sony Open.
"Although this may not be a surprise, I'm happy to announce we have granted her an exemption," Sony senior vice president Masao Morita said.
Wie, who turned pro earlier this month, draws huge galleries wherever she goes. The crowds are especially large when she plays in men's PGA Tour events. The 2006 Sony Open will be her fourth attempt to become the first female to make the cut at a PGA men's tournament (she also played at the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., last summer) in 60 years.
"To have a prodigy like Michelle Wie means ... national and international exposure," PGA Tour vice president Ric Clarson said.
Wie, whose parents are from Korea, attracted large numbers of fans from that country to her pro debut two weeks ago at the LPGA's Samsung World Championship at Bighorn in Palm Desert, Calif. It's safe to say her Korean and Japanese fan bases will be well-represented at Waialae on Jan. 9-15.
Clarson also said negotiations are under way for an extension of the Mercedes Championships, the winners-only season opener at Kapalua on Maui.
"We are in renewal discussions. Our plan is to conclude that in the next couple of months and certainly continue to open our season on Maui," Clarson said.
Total prize money for the Sony Open will be $5.1 million, with first place getting $918,000, tournament spokesman Bill Bachran said.
Vijay Singh won last year's tournament, making up a four-stroke deficit during the final round.
Gov. Linda Lingle said the biggest winner each year is Hawaii charities. They've received $500,000 each of the past three years.
"This is beyond a golf tournament," Lingle said. "It's a way to improve the quality of life in Hawaii. It's a great opportunity for us."
Clarson denied there was any serious thought by Sony or the PGA of moving sponsorship or the tournament itself from Hawaii, but not that various options were at least brought up for discussion.
"We're committed. Our motivation is giving back to the community," he said. "We have conversations all the time with our tournaments and our title sponsors that start with 'What if?' When you have as many host organizations, markets we play in and title sponsors that we have, there's always going to be room for different type of speculation depending on different scenarios.
"It's not an easy task putting together our schedule each year, or four years at a time," he said. "We never had any consideration on the PGA Tour of not playing in Honolulu. There's been no dialogue about Sony looking for a different market. The tour's committed to this market long-term."