Wie Winding Down Wild Ride

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It's simply not true, at least as far as I can tell. You cannot see the ubiquotous Nike swoosh unfurl across majestic Mt. Hood on the kind of spectacular, ice blue days that have greeted us in the Portland area this week. Similarly, historians have been unable to prove conclusively that when that dogged best ball duo of Lewis and Clark set out on their monumental expedition some 200 years ago, U.S. Captain Thomas Jefferson implored the intrepid team to 'Just Do It.'
 
Nontheless, Nike, headquartered nearby, does loom large in these parts. Not surprisingly, B.J. Wie, slightly embattled father of a certain 13-year-old prodigy, acknowledged that the folks who signed basketball phenom LeBron James to a $90 million dollar endorsement deal have stopped by to say hello to the Wie family.
 
Meanwhile, a sports marketing executive I know said he's heard whispers that if Michelle turned pro tomorrow she'd command conservatively six to seven million per year in endorsement money.
 
Don't fret, though. She's not making the jump likely for several years or more. So, then why the push now to play so many events?
 
It's only one on a laundry list of questions B.J. Wie was more than happy to address, if only to quell the growing corps of critics who fear that Michelle is no longer a wondrous novelty but an overexposed and overworked 9th grader.
 
'Our goal was to play a lot of high level golf,' he told me.
 
Then, referring to a largely negative review in the recent issue of Golf World, he explained his position further.
 
'They think we should use the Earl Woods strategy and slow down,' he said. 'Michelle's case is different than Tiger's. Girls mature faster than boys.'
 
Michelle's standing to the side, six feet tall and able to look me in the eye. I'm 6'4'.
 
'Look, Michelle's made the cut in four of the five LPGA events she's played,' he pointed out. Tiger at 13 was years from making his first cut.
 
'Why should I use Mr. Woods' strategy?' Mr. Wie wonders.
 
B.J. was also eager to shed light to the subject of finances. 'In terms of expenses it's actually less money to play the schedule we've played on the LPGA Tour than if we were to play in high level junior events,' he said. The Wies live in Honolulu. Mom, Bo, is a realtor. B.J.'s a professor in the school of Travel Industry Management at The University of Hawaii.
 
'The airfare, hotel, rental cars cost the same on the junior circuit as they do on the professional tour,' he added. 'Actually, because the food is free on Tour we might actually save money.'
 
In the grand scheme, considering they're sitting on a financial geyser that should erupt at a time of their choosing like Mt. St. Helen's, it's not a point that's likely to engender any sort of sympathy. Mr. Wie's simply of the mind to set the record straight.
 
And one doesn't get the sense that the parents are exploiting the child. Remember, she does possess an extraordinary gift.
 
'The LPGA offers Michelle a chance to compete against better players on better courses,' the father says. 'She has this opportunity, so why should we reject it?'
 
Perhaps, some have suggested, because she should be in school right now. I've heard it asked on numerous occasions, does she really need to play in yet another tournament?
 
Michelle and I talked about this.
 
'I'm not going to die without school,' she says, the mouth full of braces breaking into another grin. And you quickly remember that while she is six feet tall, she is also only 13. 'Who doesn't want to miss school?!'
 
'Any homework on the road?' I ask.
 
'Oh yeah,' she groans.
 
Michelle's a high achiever in the classroom, too. She's an A student taking honors English, Japanese, Social Studies and Biology.
 
'What do you think of the talk of burnout?'
 
'It's not a big issue,' she says flatly. 'I'm having fun. I don't think of golf 24/7. Even when I'm playing I don't think of golf all the time.'
 
'What do you think of?'
 
She busts out laughing. 'All sorts of random things fly into this head.'
 
'Look,' she explains, 'we can't predict the future. Writers can't predict the future. If I burn out then I burn out.'
 
After the wise words, I balk. She's really only 13?
 
She goes on to tell me that she'd like to study fashion someday.
 
'Like Venus,' she says. Interesting that she brings up Venus Williams. My sports marketing friend says the model the Wies should emulate is not necessarily the one crafted by Earl Woods, but by Richard Williams, mercurial father to the towering tennis sisters.
 
'He held them back so they weren't overexposed when they arrived,' he said. 'As a marketer, I think Michelle's overexposed.'
 
I counter that ultimately performance is all that matters. If she wins the U.S. Open at 17, the marketers will beat each other with five irons trying to get in line.
 
'It would be a moot point,' he agreed.
 
Still, the ranks of the golf writers are populated with barking dogs. And they were heard after Michelle played with the men last week in Boise. 'The Gen-Xploitation of Michelle Wie has been going on all summer,' wrote John Hawkins in Golf World, 'disguised as an opportunity for the young lady to 'develop' while playing at the semi-highest level. In actuality, it's a chance for some title-bearing corporation to sell more tickets, for The Golf Channel to attract a few hundred more viewers, for a couple of needy minor- league circuits to buff their own shingles.'
 
What looked like exploitation to one writer looked differently to the man with the most to lose.
 
'No one got shot,' B.J. Wie said. 'Michelle helped to raise a half million dollars for charity. Isn't that good enough?'
 
And yet, Mr. Wie, while shielding Michelle from the negative press, concedes that he's learning from some of what's written.
 
'Sometimes the articles help,' he said. 'Maybe I'm pushing too hard. Maybe we'll travel less next year. Certainly the press has given me room to think about next year.'
 
At this point, Suzy Whaly drops by the area off to the side of the putting green. Michelle's surprised at how tall Suzy is, and quickly stands shoulder to shoulder with her. Beth Daniel joins the circle and shares a laugh. Apparently in the pro-am Michelle won a friendly wager with Meg Mallon, closest to the hole with a wedge. Meg might show up with a new hair color, we hear. In this small scene, Michelle's comfortable and playful, and if there's resentment from other players, as has been reported, it's not felt here.
 
And so it goes. The morning paper revealed an ad for the tournament, with Michelle pictured alongside Annika. Yes, tournament organizers are using a 13-year-old to sell tickets. But the Wies are here willingly, gaining experience. And as Dad said, no one got shot.
 
The plan, according to Mr. Wie, is to get a college degree. He says without hesitation that she'd likely play in the men's NCAA. As for Michelle's stated goal of playing in the Masters, that, she explained, can be achieved by winning either the men's U.S. Amateur or Publinx.
 
And at this declaration by Michelle, a collective scoff can be heard throughout golf.
 
Yet, Tiger put Nicklaus in his sights as a boy. Who are we to tell people what size dreams they should dream?
 
Finally, I ask Mrs.Wie if she thinks any harm's been done.
 
'I don't think so,'she replies in a soft voice. 'Michelle handles herself so well. She loves people.'
 
It's by no means comparable to Lewis and Clark, though if she ever does make the Masters that certainly would be uncharted waters. In the meantime, Michelle Wie is nearing the end of the first year of a modern-day adventure.
 
'I already miss the summer,' she said with a smile.