Not yet 16, Wie to earn $13m without hitting a ball
October 05, 2005
TEENAGE prodigy Michelle Wie is expected to turn professional tomorrow (AEST), a move that will reap up to $US10million ($13m) in endorsements in her first year alone.
Having done that, Wie, whose 16th birthday is days away, will then prepare to join her classmates at Honolulu's Punahou High School.
She plans to stay on for two more years while combining a limited playing schedule in the professional game.
The most celebrated young player since Tiger Woods, Wie is a public relations dream.
Ever since she shot 64 at the age of 10 in 2000, she has captured the media spotlight.
At 1.83m, the Korean-American overpowers most of her LPGA Tour competitors, as well as many of the men on the PGA Tour, with her booming drives.
She is already a veteran of 23 LPGA events.
Before she hits a golf ball as a professional, Wie will be a multi-millionaire, thanks to deals with Nike and Sony.
Wie's endorsement earnings will make her the third-highest paid woman athlete on the Forbes magazine wealthy list.
Only Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, $US16m in endorsements, and Serena Williams, $US11m, earn more.
World No.1 golfer Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, who has won nine majors, earns around $US6m a year in endorsements.
But Wie is not a one-dimensional person with merely golf on her mind.
After high school she plans to go to college. Wie is fluent in Korean and is studying Japanese and Chinese.
Wie is set to make her debut as a professional in the Samsung World Championship at Palm Desert, California tomorrow week, two days after her birthday.
Wie has already said she will not challenge the LPGA Tour's policy that members be 18 years old and instead intends to play the 2006 season on sponsor exemptions.
Players under 18 can petition to become LPGA members, and South Korea's Aree Song joined the tour aged 17 in 2003.
Time will tell but it seems to be a safe bet that Wie, already one of the biggest attractions in the game, will break new ground for female athletes.
"She shot 68 in a PGA Tour event, that's an incredible accomplishment," 1997 US PGA champion Davis Love said after she narrowly failed to become the first female to make the cut in a PGA Tour event at last year's Sony Open in Hawaii.
"She's got the potential to win most any golf tournament she enters, but she's still inexperienced. Do you know of any golfer with more potential under the age of 25? Probably not.
"I think she's the next Tiger Woods, but we will just have to see what happens in the next few years."
Three-time major winner Ernie Els, who has played practice rounds with Wie, described her swing as the best of any woman player he had seen.
Although yet to win a title at the highest level, Wie has come desperately close this year with three runner-up finishes and a tie for third at the Women's British Open in July.
She has been criticised for not playing more against girls of her own age to become accustomed to the winning habit but she has very clear ideas of where she wants to go.
"I want to play on the PGA Tour as well as the LPGA Tour, and I really want to become the first woman to play in the (US) Masters at Augusta National," she said this year.
"My mind-set is that I can beat everyone in the women's game, but I don't really think that I'm the best yet."