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 Saturday, October 01, 2005

Richest Female Golfer in the World and a Millionnaire at 16

  Read here original article by Doug Ferguson

Six days before she turns 16, and still not old enough to drive car by herself, Michelle Wie, a 6-foot golf prodigy will turn professional with two endorsement deals that will make her the richest female golfer.

Image hosted by Wie was born in Honolulu and has a Korean heritage, and speaks to her parents primarily in Korean.

The sources said Wie will sign two major endorsements, with Nike and Sony.

Wie will make the announcement at 8 a.m. Wednesday in Honolulu at the Kahala Mandarin Hotel near Waialae Country Club. The time was set early so she could still go to school.

Along with appearance money to play overseas, Wie could bring in about $10 million a year beyond whatever she makes on the golf course. Annika Sorenstam, whose 66 victories on the LPGA Tour include nine majors and the career Grand Slam, earns about $6 million a year in endorsements.

One source said the Nike contract would pay her about $4 million to $5 million a year. Nike prefers its athletes to have a clean look with no other logos, meaning Wie would have the swoosh on her cap and clothing.

The other major endorsement is with Sony, which is believed to be worth close to the Nike deal.

But the money will start pouring in no matter how she fares in the 18-player field.

Her father said his daughter's routine would not change despite her status as a professional and the amount of money she will earn. B.J. Wie said he would stay at the University of Hawaii, where he is a professor, and Michelle would spend her final two years at Punahou School before going to college.

Wie will fly to the California on Oct 13 to make her professional debut in the Samsung World Championship at Bighorn.

Sony officials got to know Wie during her two appearances at the Sony Open. She shot 68 in the second round last year the lowest score ever by a female competing on a men's tour and missed the cut by one shot. She returned this year and shot 75-74 in blustery conditions to miss the cut by seven shots.

One executive from Sony walked all 18 holes of her second round in 2004.

Wie will play the Casio World Open in Japan the week of Thanksgiving, her first tournament overseas against the men.

Wie has even greater recognition overseas, especially in Asia, than in the United States.

"The courses in Japan are not as tough as here, they're not as long as they are in the United States," Shigeki Maruyama said Friday from the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro. "She should have a very good chance of making the cut over there."

Wie is unlikely to play any other tournaments this year.

Nike most likely will build an ad campaign around her decision to turn pro, although not to the extent of its "Hello, World" ad when Tiger Woods turned pro in 1996 at age 20 after winning six straight USGA titles.

Wie is more about potential, a prodigy who already was hitting the ball like a PGA Tour player when she was still wearing a retainer. She first caught players' attention while playing in a junior pro-am at the Sony Open when she was 12.

Tom Lehman thought her swing was so fluid he called her the "Big Wiesy," because she reminded him of Ernie Els.

Wednesday's announcement will end an amateur chapter in her career in which she spent more time playing against the pros. Wie already has played 24 times on the LPGA Tour, and has not missed a cut in the last two years.

She was runner-up at the LPGA Championship to Annika Sorenstam in June, and tied for third at the Women's British Open in July. Both are majors on the LPGA Tour.

Wie also has competed five times against the men, without making a cut three on the PGA Tour, once on the Nationwide Tour and once on the Canadian Tour.

Wie will not challenge the LPGA Tour's policy that members be 18 years old. Instead, she will take sponsor's exemptions a maximum of six on the LPGA Tour, excluding the U.S. Women's Open or the Women's British Open.

She can take up to seven on the PGA Tour, although it is not likely she will accept that many.

Her most noteworthy victory was the 2003 U.S. Woman's Amateur Public Links, which she captured at age 13 to become the youngest champion of a USGA championship for adults.

She lost in the finals of the WAPL a year later, but never reached the finals of the U.S. Junior Girls or U.S. Women's Amateur.

Her path has been different from the start.

She was winning state amateur events before she got out of elementary school, and qualified for her first LPGA Tour event the Takefugi Classic in 2002 before she was eligible for some junior tours like the American Junior Golf Association.

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