Tiger's influence reaches beyond tour
At 24, Wie's career is all in front of her
The PGA Tour has been the greatest beneficiary of Tiger Woods' monumental influence on the game. Since he turned pro in 1996, tournament purses, attendance and TV contracts have grown more than at any other point in the 85-year history of the organization.
Tiger has had some great company at the top of the game -- Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, David Duval and Sergio Garcia, to name just a few -- but these players have lagged far behind him in galvanizing interest that transcends the sport.
In many ways, Tiger is golf.
Michelle Wie is the best hope for a Tiger-like effect on the LPGA Tour. But golf's leading women's tour needs more than any one iconic figure to lure more sponsorship dollars and fans.
Much like Annika Sorenstam, Wie will be able to bring attention mostly to herself. Her personal brand will grow. But with the general indifference toward women's professional sports that is prevalent in society, it will be very difficult for her to have the kind of an impact on the LPGA Tour that Tiger has had on the men's game and on golf at large.
Wie is like an all-star who plays for a small-market franchise that will be unfortunately small with or without her presence.
Plus, it will be difficult for Wie to top Sorenstam, who couldn't lift the fortunes of the women's game with a round of 59, with 72 tour wins and with a much-publicized appearance in a PGA Tour event.
If Tiger goes away from the PGA Tour, the whole game suffers, including the LPGA Tour and Michelle Wie.
Without a doubt, Michelle Wie is more important to the LPGA Tour than Tiger Woods is to the PGA Tour.
Simple: Wie, although practically a household name for a decade (and a USGA national champion dating back to 2003) is still in the growth stage of her career, while Tiger is closer to sunset than sunrise.
We are just getting to see Wie, 24, mature and reach some of the promise that so many LPGA observers have hoped for. Tiger, on the other hand, is multiple surgeries into an already lengthy career and is preparing for yet another comeback at age 38.
The PGA Tour is deeper in star power and recognizable faces/stories, due in part to weekly cable and network coverage as well as predictable television windows. The LPGA simply does not have that in its arsenal. So when it got 14 hours of televised coverage last week between ESPN2 and NBC, having a face and story as recognizable as Wie's was bigger than the Tiger boost.
How big was the boost? The early returns have the U.S. Women's Open outdrawing the Travelers Championship, last week's PGA Tour event, by a 1.7 to 1.2 rating in the same Sunday time slot. That rating is a 92 percent increase from a year ago, when Inbee Park was winning her third consecutive major and making a run at the Grand Slam. No comparison.
Even with Tiger's absence for most of the season, the PGA Tour's numbers have been down only in the neighborhood of 10 percent. Wie simply moves the needle for TV ratings in women's golf.
Because of her size, strength and talent (and now confidence), she can do things with a golf ball that other women simply can't. People want to see that, whether in person, on television or on other platforms. Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson and Suzann Pettersen have a lot of those weapons, but not to the extent Wie does. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has done a good job positioning the tour to take advantage of this resurgence, not only by Wie but by other Americans, as well.
With eight Americans in the top 20 in the world rankings and no one there moving higher or faster than Wie, the LPGA is a tour on the rise -- and with a newly crowned major champion even more meaningful to her tour than Tiger is to his.