HONOLULU -- Sitting in a hotel suite overlooking swaying
palms and the rolling Pacific surf, Michelle Wie leaned forward and
gazed at the newspaper. The front page was a reminder of how far
she's come and the expectations that are greater than ever.
The Honolulu Advertiser ran four pictures of Hawaii's biggest
sports sensation in the paper Wednesday. There she was at age 10
with chubby cheeks and a grown-up swing; at age 13 and 14 competing
against the pros; and as a celebrity in a formal red dress at last
year's Laureus Sports Awards in Portugal.
The headline: "Why she's worth millions."
"I don't know why," Wie said softly. "But I'm going to try
hard to live up to it."
Already one of the most famous athletes in the world, Wie became
the richest female golfer Wednesday when she stood before a crowded
conference room and realized a dream a dozen years in the making.
"I'm finally happy to say I'm a pro starting today," said Wie,
wearing a pink Nike shirt and high heels that made her stand even
taller than 6 feet. "The first time I grabbed a golf club, I knew
I'd do it for the rest of my life. Some 12 years later, I'm finally
turning pro, and I'm so excited."
Wie signed endorsement deals with Nike and Sony, which will pay
her as much as $10 million a year.
There was no Tigeresque "Hello, World" moment, as there was
when Woods turned pro in 1996. Wie looked nervous while waiting to
be introduced, flanked by her new agent, Ross Berlin of the William
Morris Agency, and executives from her two sponsors.
"Usually at a press conference, I don't have to make a
speech," she said. "I don't like making speeches."
Wie will be judged by her golf, and that's where the
She makes her professional debut next week in the Samsung World
Championship in California. Wie also will play the week of
Thanksgiving at the Casio World Open in Japan, her sixth time
competing against men.
"I know I have to win. That's my priority right now," Wie
said. "Everyone expects me to do better and work hard, and I'm
going to try my best."
She has redefined success since winning the U.S. Women's Amateur
Public Links at age 13, the youngest champion of a USGA title for
adults. She hasn't hoisted another trophy on her own, but her
amazing feats have fanned the hype over her potential.
She shot 68 at the Sony Open as a 14-year-old still wearing a
retainer, the lowest score ever by a female competing on a men's
tour. She reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Public
Links this summer, three rounds away from her long-shot bid of
getting into The Masters. She twice has come within a whisker of
making the cut on the PGA Tour.
Against the women, Wie has more than held her own.
She was runner-up at the LPGA Championship to Annika Sorenstam,
and tied for third at the Women's British Open. She has made the
cut in her last 16 LPGA events dating to 2003, and would have
earned about $640,870 on the LPGA Tour this year had she not been
an amateur. That would have put her 13th on the money list in only
"She's the whole package," said Bob Wood, president of Nike
Golf. "But it's all potential. It's all in front of her."
The other Nike client -- Tiger Woods -- took a different route. He
won three straight U.S. Amateur titles and dominated every age
group until he turned pro in 1996, earning his PGA Tour card with
two victories in seven starts. Then came his record-setting victory
in the Masters.
Wie still has two years left at Punahou School, and will play
only a limited schedule until she graduates. But her marketing
appeal is above any other woman in golf -- a 6-footer of Korean
heritage who was raised in Hawaii, has loads of charisma and power
and a captivating smile to boot.
"What's similar in her and Tiger is they have instantaneous,
worldwide appeal," Wood said. "Talk to the guys in Europe. She's
going to be huge there. She's just a great story. She's a great
Nike story. If there's anybody that can personify 'Just Do It,'
Wie is not expected to join the LPGA Tour until she turns 18,
although she can play up to eight of its events a year. She also
will play a few times on the PGA Tour, and against men and women
"Michelle is a young woman with phenomenal talent who brings
the promise of incredible performance and a marketability that will
draw fans of all ages from all corners of the world into the sport
of golf like never before," LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens
Wie's endorsement package is about $3 million more than what
Sorenstam gets each year, even though the Swede has won 66 times on
the LPGA Tour and nine majors.
Asked if she had any advice for the teen prodigy, Sorenstam
"So far, I think she is doing pretty good on her own. I think
the key though is ... it needs to be fun. It's very important to
have a passion for the game and play golf for the right reasons."
Woods has never played with Wie, but does not question her
"When I was 16, I wasn't even thinking about turning pro. I was
just hoping to get into college somewhere," he said. "She has a
talent, and has been good enough to make a giant step like that."
The first big step came Wednesday, with an announcement everyone
knew was coming.
Her parents were there, of course. B.J. Wie took pictures of his
only child as she sat on the stage.
"Bringing her down the stairs, it felt like it was a wedding,"
he said. "It was a strange feeling. Becoming a professional means
she will have more responsibility. She has to be able to handle
much higher expectations. She'll have extra pressure."
And the money?
Her father already has set up a trust that Wie can access when
he feels she is ready. But he noted that she already has made sound
stock investments using money she earned playing friendly matches
against his pals.
"Her purse was filled with $5 bills," Dad said.