Michelle Wie, the 13-year-old prodigy who finished ninth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship Sunday and led the field in driving distance with a thunderous average of 286.2 yards, is the biggest buzz in golf right now.
Even the non-golf talk shows are talking about this eighth grader who lives in Hawaii and wants to play in the Masters when she grows up. Meanwhile, there is rejoicing in the halls of Titleist, Callaway and TaylorMade. This is because Wie was using Titleist balls, irons and wedges. She was using a Callaway 4-wood. She was using a Scotty Cameron putter and a TaylorMade R580 driver. She also was wearing a Titleist hat, a Foot-Joy glove and Adidas shoes.
The problem is, Wie is still an amateur. As long as she chooses to remain an amateur'and she says that may be until she gets out of college'she cannot sign an endorsement deal with any company. Were talking about a potential wait of eight years.
Which is why the wooing of Michelle Wie is going to be a slow dance. Representatives from both Titleist and TaylorMade told me Tuesday, in separate conversations, that the recruitment process is also going to be a slippery slope. Yes, they both used the same phrase.
Until then they cant market her. The USGA frowns on players in its events being used for image and likeness purposes. Plus, what if TaylorMade buys an ad featuring Wie pounding its driver, only to gasp in horror when she decides to switch to somebody elses driver in her next tournament? Its a chance they cannot take.
But make no mistake, officials at all the equipment companies will be watching every shot she takes until she decides to play for pay. So will the management companies.
Wies Q-rating is so high right now that she could be the sole reason the tour returns to Hawaii within a year or two. Following last years event, the Takefuji Classic departed Hawaii and left it without an LPGA event for the first time in 21 years. Now the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper is reporting that Wies presence may be enough to lure a sponsor to return to the Aloha State. Reportedly all it would cost a sponsor would be $1 million. The payoff for that company would come in the form of a sponsors exemption for Wie and the promise of international media coverage and a local box office bonanza.
Michelle Wie is the next big thing in golf. And she is here right now. Her swing is the closest thing any woman alive has to Ernie Els action'unmistakable power generated by a seemingly effortless grace.
Later this summer Wie is scheduled to play in two Canadian Tour mens events. If Annika Sorenstam plays poorly at the Bank of America Colonial in late May and Wie plays well against the men, MichelleMania will only grow.
The cautionary part of this tale is Wies age. As her talent for the game of golf grows, it will be increasingly difficult for her to lead a normal life. All of us need to allow her to be a teenager because there but for the grace of God go our own children.