All Eyes on Wie as She Prepares to Turn Pro

By Associated PressSeptember 21, 2005, 4:00 pm
Everywhere she goes, people can't help but notice Michelle Wie.
 
As a 13-year-old still wearing a retainer, she was warming up on the practice range for a junior pro-am at the Sony Open in Honolulu. When she pulled out her driver, five PGA Tour players on both sides of her stopped to watch her launch tee shots that approached the 300-yard marker.
 
Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie will reportedly make upwards of $10 million just by turning pro.
Last year in Portugal, where Wie received the Laureus World Newcomer of the Year award, she walked into the banquet room filled with celebrities that included as Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Placido Domingo.
 
``Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and watched her go to her table,'' said Greg Nared, a Nike business manager who has been tracking Wie the last two years. ``That told me a lot.''
 
The 15-year-old from Hawaii who commands so much attention is on the verge of commanding top money. Wie is about to turn pro, and endorsements estimated to be worth as much as $10 million a year await.
 
Two sources close to Wie, speaking on condition of anonymity because she is still an amateur, said the announcement will not be made until endorsement deals are signed.
 
That could be done before the Samsung World Championship, which starts Oct. 13, two days after her 16th birthday. It will be the eighth and final LPGA Tour event Wie plays this year.
 
``There is nothing to say until everything is completed,'' her father, B.J. Wie, said Wednesday.
 
He added that ``we are getting close,'' but said her decision to turn pro would not be related to Samsung.
 
``It doesn't have to be associated with a tournament she would play,'' the father said. ``There is no target date we have to meet.''
 
When it happens, she will be the highest-paid female golfer in the world.
 
One deal that is nearing completion is with Nike, which is no surprise. Wie has been playing its irons and golf ball the last two years, and often wears the swoosh on her clothing. A source with knowledge of the negotiations said the deal could be worth anywhere from $4 million to $5 million a year.
 
She also is working on a deal with an Asian-based electronics company that could be worth about $3 million a year. Golf World magazine reported another possible endorsement with an airline company.
 
Annika Sorenstam, the best player in women's golf, makes about $7 million a year in endorsements. No other female golfer is remotely close.
 
``Did I hear she might make $10 million a year?'' David Toms said Wednesday. ``I'd like to get half that much. And I've won a tournament.''
 
Early projections were that Wie could command up to $20 million a year in endorsements, and her potential earnings could surpass that. But the family is starting slowly and conservatively, in part because Wie still has two years left before she graduates Punahou School in Honolulu.
 
``If I was handling the strategy, it would be a five- to eight-year strategy,'' said Steve Lauletta, who ran Miller Brewing's sports marketing for 10 years and now is president of Omnicom's Radiate Sports Group. ``Maybe you do one or two now, and 24 months down the road, you add another one or two. Not only are there commitments with school, but she's so young. You're interacting with corporate CEOs, older persons.
 
``She might not be as comfortable talking to them as she will be five years down the road.''
 
B.J. Wie declined to discuss endorsement opportunities, but he noted that his daughter -- who made straight A's in the spring semester while playing three LPGA Tour events -- wants to graduate with her class and still wants to purse a business degree, preferably at Stanford.
 
``She wants to complete her schooling and be in control of her own business empire,'' swing coach David Leadbetter said. ``I would say there's no question she's got some great goals, more than being a golfer. She's learning Chinese, Japanese. She soaks up so much information.''
 
Her golf plans are a little more clear.
 
Those plans took root in January, as Wie was getting ready to play in the Sony Open for the second straight year. Her father spoke that day of her becoming a global golfer, with a base on the LPGA Tour, but also taking her game to Europe and Asia to compete against men and women.
 
As popular as she is in the United States -- record crowds at the John Deere Classic, where she nearly made the cut, and spiked attendance on the LPGA Tour -- Wie might be an even bigger draw in Asia.
 
She was born in Hawaii and has a Korean heritage, and she has spoken Japanese to Shigeki Maruyama while paired with him at a pro-am in the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua. And if the novelty of a 15-year-old girl who hits it a mile is starting to wear off in the United States, that isn't the case overseas.
 
``I went to her interview before the Women's British Open, and I couldn't believe how full the room was. It was overflowing,'' Leadbetter said. ``When Annika went in there, it was 25 percent full. The buzz for Michelle was amazing.''
 
Wie tied for third at the British Open, seven shots out of the lead. She was runner-up in another major, the LPGA Championship, finishing three shots behind Sorenstam.
 
It was part of a dynamic summer in which she was on the verge of making the cut at the John Deere Classic until a double bogey on the 16th hole; then reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
 
While she beat women routinely as a 10- and 11-year-old in Hawaii tournaments, her only substantial victory was the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links as a 13-year-old in 2003.
 
Lauletta is among those who believe Wie will have to win tournaments to sustain her marketability. But it's the potential that has allowed her to live up to the hype that surrounds her.
 
``The potential to dominate is what appeals to a lot of people,'' Lauletta said. ``One of the qualities she has is being the next big thing. When you're the next big thing, they want to notice you and see what it is. And she's that. There's no doubt about it.'
 
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.