Win lifts Wie and LPGA


POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Officials, fans and even players of the women's golf tour have yearned for the past year that Michelle Wie break into the winner's column. Bolstered in confidence by her undefeated performance in the Solheim Cup, Wie spectacularly satisfied their wishes and her own Sunday with her first LPGA victory, giving a badly needed boost to the game in Hawaii and nationally.

LPGA officials had not been shy in talking about Wie's importance in restoring public interest and sponsors' support of the tour during the sour economy. As Wie was tied for the lead going into the final day, LPGA spokesman David Higdon said, “;When Michelle Wie is atop the leaderboard it's like night and day and that's star power. That's all it is.

“;This is somebody people want to follow,”; Higdon added. “;You see it in her presence, the way she walks around. The way people talk to her.”;

The LPGA is in desperate need of a lift. Sponsor exits have reduced the number of tournaments on the schedule to 28 this year from 34 last year, and remaining events have been feared to drop to as few as 20 next year.

None of last year's three LPGA tournaments in Hawaii is expected to return in 2010. This comes as South Koreans have begun to dominate the tour and the U.S. visa waiver of Koreans has been implemented — a potential tourism bonanza in Hawaii stuck in a hazard.

Player pressure caused by the LPGA's loss of tournaments resulted in the resignation this year of Carolyn Bivens as commissioner. Since her departure, several sponsors reportedly have signed contracts and the 2010 schedule to be released today at the Tour Championship in Houston could include as many as 25 events.

The tour announced last month that Michael Whan, an experienced marketer of commodities ranging from toothpaste to sporting goods, will replace Bivens on Jan. 4. He described the tour to The Wall Street Journal as “;the greatest female worldwide competition going”; and talked of “;finding future superstars from all over the world.”;

Wie shines brightest of all. She struggled with injuries, bad decisions and loss of confidence during the decade since she was branded a progeny on the fast fairway to superstardom. Her aggressive performance at the Solheim Cup earned her universal acclaim and — as her doting parents were kept in the background for the first time — friendship with other members of the American team in its defeat of the Europeans.

Runner-up to Ochoa, the world's top-ranked player, at last month's Navistar Classic in Alabama, Wie was pitted in a four-way Sunday battle in the Ochoa Invitational with America's top-ranked players — Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr — and South Korean Jiyai Shin, world No. 2, shoo-in as rookie of the year and likely player of the year with three victories.

The proper encore of Wie's stamina from capturing the top prize in that field should be achieving the next goal: her first victory in one of the tour's major events.