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SILVIS, Ill. » Michelle Wie's 16th birthday could be very sweet indeed.
There is speculation she will officially become a professional golfer when she blows out the candles Oct. 11, and her father, B.J., doesn't deny it might happen.
On the first day she's eligible to get her driver's license, Wie could become a multi-millionaire able to buy any ride she wants. Endorsement deals would supply her with millions before she even swings her first club as a pro. Her bank account will have finally caught up with her celebrity.
Wie, who will be a junior at Punahou in the fall, has consistently said she wants to play college golf at Stanford. Following her idol Tiger Woods' path to The Farm would still be a possibility if she gives up her amateur status, but only as a student, not a golfer.
B.J. Wie was asked Friday, after his daughter missed the cut of the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, about Michelle's future. He said turning pro at 16 has been discussed and did not eliminate it as a possibility.
The events of Thursday and Friday here at TPC at Deere Run indicate she might be ready.
Although a double-bogey followed by a bogey late in the second round knocked her out of the tournament, Wie shot a 1-under 141, tied for 88th place, but ahead of 52 others. She finished tied with Hall-of-Famer Nick Price, 1987 U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson and 12 others.
The LPGA has a rule that players must be at least 18 to qualify for a tour card. Exceptions can be requested as Morgan Pressel, 17, did last week. When she gets her answer, it could help set the stage for Wie. Aree Song already received an exception for the rule as a 17-year-old.
It is doubtful Wie would strive to become a full-time touring pro right away. She still has two more years of high school; she would likely continue to play in selected PGA and LPGA events as a sponsor's exemption.
And her Q rating might help her avoid Q school. Wie's popularity already translates into sponsor's exemptions; if she makes enough money in those events, it will put her high enough on the money list where she qualifies by ranking.
For now, whether she remains an amateur or not, Wie said she hopes to play in more PGA Tour events. Her father said she will do so on an occasional basis. No more are scheduled for this season.
After a day of rest yesterday (Wie had hoped to see the movie "Fantastic Four"), she and her parents headed to Shaker Run in Lebanon, Ohio, for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships. She won the women's Publinx event in 2003; this is the men's tournament.
"I feel really good about the Public Links," Wie said Friday. "After seeing that I shot under par here, it feels that I can really compete there, and if I can get to match play, it's a toss-up from there."
Wie is also scheduled to play at the LPGA's Evian Masters in France and the Women's British Open as well as the U.S. Women's Amateur Championships.
Hunter Mahan, who led the JDC after the first round, said other young female players should be given the same chances to play in men's events as Wie.
"I don't like the fact that she's had more opportunities than any other woman. ... It would be interesting to see if you gave Paula Creamer or Morgan Pressel, those girls some opportunities to see what they could do. I mean, maybe Michelle is not the only one out here who can do this. ... It's kind of tough to tell maybe how good she actually is."
JDC tournament chairman Clair Peterson said he hadn't given any thought to inviting another female next year. Wie herself has not been asked back yet, but it's hard to imagine she won't after attracting huge crowds Thursday and Friday.
"We had our best day financially since we moved to Deere Run," Peterson said of the second-round crowd that came to see if Wie would make the cut. "Judging from the financials, we're calling it 30,000 to 35,000 (spectators). Revenues, gate, concession, everything is the highest."
He declined to put a figure on revenue, but Peterson did say "$2 million went to charity last year and we think we'll exceed that dramatically."
Peterson said one reason Wie can play in men's tour events is her ability to drive the ball off the tee. Forty-three percent of her drives Thursday and Friday were in the 260- to 280-yard range. She also knocked the ball between 280 and 300 yards six times, and more than 300 yards twice.
By comparison, Creamer averages 248 yards per drive in LPGA events and Pressel averages around 240 yards.
Wie is a slender 6-footer who is getting serious about weight-training in an effort to increase her distance.
It's hard to survive at a men's tour event without big-drive capability, Peterson said -- for a male or a female.
"Distance off the tee is very important. Players like Corey Pavin, with the increased importance, he is at the back of the pack. His success has been affected," he said. "Now players like Vijay, Tiger, Ernie -- they go driver, 7-iron. That's a lot easier than driver, 4-iron. The modern game is longer."
The LPGA's brightest star (and longest hitter) didn't make the cut at a men's event two years ago.
"Length is a factor, and that's one factor that affected Annika (Sorenstam) at Colonial," Peterson said.
Wie ranked 136th in the tournament in driving distance, but Peterson said it was good enough.
"I think Michelle certainly proved she belongs. She showed she has the skill to compete at this level," he said. "What other women are able to do, time will tell."
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