Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Michelle Wie on the verge of turning pro

ENDORSEMENT Already hobnobbing with celebrities like Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Placido Domingo, the 15-year-old golfer is set to start earning big money


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 US PGA Tour players on both sides of her stopped to watch her launch tee shots that approached the 300-yard marker.

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 Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Placido Domingo.

"Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and watched her go to her table. That told me a lot," said Greg Nared, a Nike business manager who has been tracking Wie the last two years.

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 US$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 in California on Oct. 13, two days after her 16th birthday. It will be the eighth and final US LPGA Tour event Wie plays this year.

"There is nothing to say until everything is completed," her father, B.J. Wie, said on 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," he 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 US$4 million to US$5 million a year.

She also is working on a deal with an Asian-based electronics company that could be worth about US$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 US$7 million a year in endorsements. No other female golfer is remotely close.

"Did I hear she might make US$10 million a year?" David Toms said on Wednesday. "I'd like to get half that much. And I've won a tournament."

Early projections were that Wie could command up to US$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 from 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," Lauletta said.

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