Michelle Wie’s breakthrough Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open is resonating far beyond the buzz expected.
Nancy Lopez could hear it Monday night when she arrived in New York for the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association National Awards Dinner, where she received the Winnie Palmer Award for devotion to the less fortunate.
“It seemed like everyone watched Michelle win,” Lopez said. “We were all talking about it.”
The buzz took off in entirely unanticipated directions with Wie’s own arrival in New York City on Tuesday for a whirlwind media tour. An amusing tweet showing her turning the Harton S. Semple trophy into a giant beer mug during her victory party was already viral upon her arrival, so was a video of her doing some gravity-defying twerking.
A TMZ camera crew scrambled alongside Wie on the streets of New York and asked about her it.
Dan Patrick couldn’t resist asking about it when she called in to do his national radio show.
“Michelle Wie, U.S. Women’s Open champ, amateur twerker, joining us on the program,” Patrick said.
Wie, 24, went with the flow, asking if Patrick and his “Danettes” would twerk for her.
“It was fun,” Wie said of her victory party. “I worked really hard for it. It was just really fun to see all my friends come together, and we had a really good time.”
After bouncing from the Today Show, to Fox & Friends, to CNN, to CNBC, to FoxSports1, Wie literally took the women’s game to stunning heights. She did local media interviews atop the Empire State Building. A lot of devoted fans of the women’s game are eagerly waiting to see if she will be taking the LPGA to new heights with her.
While Wie might not have taken her golf clubs to New York, she was still posting scores.
In the game of sports marketing, there’s this thing called Q Score, which measure awareness and appeal based on surveys. Wie’s Q Score is undergoing an overhaul now. Her national TV and radio shows tour is part of that.
“These are the things you need to do to get exposed to broader audiences,” said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations, which measure Q Scores. “All of this is going to create a lot of chatter about her, create additional exposure, but I’m not sure twerking brings the kind she wants. That might make her more polarizing.”
Surprisingly, Wie’s Q Score was just 14 before she won the U.S. Women’s Open, Schafer said. Lexi Thompson carried a Q Score of 37 into the championship. While those surveyed were almost three times more aware of who Wie is compared to Thompson (45 percent to 16 percent), Thompson’s appeal was higher.
Now, with Wie’s victory, her story will be retold to a larger audience, and her Q Score is likely to reflect that when it is recalculated in a month or so. She isn’t a controversial teen phenom anymore, or a struggling pro failing to live up to HER potential. She’s the broken player who persevered to put herself back together.
Swing coach David Leadbetter calls this season Wie’s rebirth, her second career. Marketing analysts see the possibilities beyond her shot-making skills.
“In the broader market, there is a real void and need for a female global star in sports,” said Peter Stern, founder of The Strategic Agency, a New York-based sports and entertainment marketing firm. “She has star quality and a real opportunity to connect with the millennials, to be very attractive to luxury products, and I can see her playing in the fashion and beauty world.”
Wie already has endorsement deals with Nike, Kia, Omega, McDonald’s, Sime Darby and Zengyro. In a sense, she also has an informal one with the LPGA, whom she represents every time she tees it up.
“She can be a tremendous shot in the arm for women’s golf, similar to what Tiger Woods has been for the men,” Stern said. “A few more wins, and she could really move the needle.”
Former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem watched Wie help fuel a rising tide in women’s golf with much satisfaction this past weekend.
“I’m 84 now, and in my contact with people even my age, they’re talking about women’s golf more than they ever have,” Mechem said. “Michelle winning is a huge plus. There is clearly a big buzz, and I think it’s only going to increase. It isn’t just what happened last week. This has been happening for a year or two.”
Wie boosted NBC’s U.S. Women’s Open TV ratings Sunday to 1.7, a 92-percent increase over last year’s final-round. She looks poised to fulfill the promise she first showed as a teenager. She has two victories this year and was runner-up in the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco.
“I think we’re clearly seeing a changing of the guard in women’s golf,” Mechem said. “We still have great players like Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb, but there’s a new group of players with Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, you could go on and on.”
With Wie winning the U.S. Women’s Open and Thompson the Kraft Nabisco, Americans have claimed the first two major championships of the year for the first time since 1999. With Lewis No. 1 in the world, Korda, Paula Creamer and Lizette Salas all winning this year, Americans are regaining a dominant foothold in the women’s game.
Could we be moving toward another golden era in American women’s golf?
“We were talking about that last night,” Lopez said, referring to the Metropolitan Golf Writers dinner. “I hope so. Michelle would be a great face for the LPGA, if she can keep it going. She is part of such a fantastic stable in the women’s game right now.”
Four-time major championship winner Meg Mallon grew up watching and then joining one of the golden ages in women’s golf. She was in high school in 1978 when Lopez won nine LPGA titles as a rookie.
“As a kid, I followed the Olympic sports and athletes. I didn’t really follow women’s golf, but she brought the sport to the front page on everyone’s doorstep,” Mallon said.
Pat Bradley, JoAnne Carner, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King, Amy Alcott, Hollis Stacy and Beth Daniel overlapped the career of Lopez in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s.
“It was an amazing era of women’s golf, and I could definitely see that developing again with this group of young players in the game now,” Mallon said. “Nancy was the best thing that happened to the tour. She brought a lot of attention to all those great players. I could definitely see Michelle being that type of player, somebody who can bring attention to all these other players and the tour as a whole.”
Bradley, the Hall of Famer who won 31 LPGA titles, appreciated what Lopez did for the entire tour.
“People came out to watch Nancy, and some of them watched me,” Bradley said. “Nancy did that for my generation, and I can see Michelle doing that for this generation. She can move the needle for the LPGA like Tiger did for the PGA Tour. This young lady has very broad shoulders.”