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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 6, 2005

World watches Wie begin 'new journey'

Photo gallery
Video: Highlights from yesterday morning's press conference
Audio: Q&A from the press conference
Reader poll: Is going pro the right thing for Wie?
 •  Wie takes first steps in a brilliant career
 •  Banking on a one-and-only
 •  Millions richer, but best yet to come
 •  To other kids, Wie's a shining example
 •  Wie will have target on her back

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

The president of Nike Golf would not detail Michelle Wie's contract but confirmed that figures reported in the press were "pretty much in the ballpark." One report says Wie's deal with Nike was for $5 million a year for four years. Her Sony deal is believed to be similar.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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ON TV

One-hour special on Wie on the Golf Channel (cable 30, digital 216) today at 2:30 and 6 p.m.

Wie's schedule

Samsung World Championships

Oct. 13-16

LPGA event

Palm Desert, Calif.

Casio World Open

Nov. 24-27

Japan Golf Tour Organization (men's tournament)

Kochi, Japan

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Well-wishers congratulate Bo and BJ Wie on their daughter's success. As a pro, Wie "has to be able to handle much higher expectations," her father said.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Cameras seem to follow Michelle Wie wherever she goes, and she was ready with one of her own at Waialae Country Club yesterday. Wie has been the major attraction at many tournaments, and her marketing appeal is expected to bring even more money beyond the millions Sony and Nike are paying her.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Michelle Wie made an announcement yesterday that everyone expected yet it still boggled the mind.

The 15-year-old turned pro and immediately became the best-paid women's golfer in the world.

"From the first time I grabbed a golf club I knew I'd do it for the rest of my life. I loved it," she said at a press conference beamed worldwide from the Kahala Mandarin Oriental. "Here I am 12 years later and I'm finally a pro. I'm so excited."

Wie made her announcement in heels and a fuchsia shirt with the Nike swoosh you will see her wearing at least into her 20s.

The Punahou junior was introduced by new business manager Ross Berlin, Vice President/Head of Golf for the William Morris talent agency in Beverly Hills. Berlin left his job last month as a vice president of the PGA the men's professional golf tour to guide Wie's career.

They were joined by representatives of Nike, the world's biggest maker of athletic shoes, and Sony, the second-biggest maker of consumer electronics.

Mike Fasulo, chief marketing officer for Sony Electronics, said his company had a five-year deal with Wie.

Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, would not specify her Nike contract but confirmed the figures reported in the press reports were "pretty much in the ballpark." The Wall Street Journal said the deal was for $5 million a year for four years, with the Los Angeles Times adding that it could go up with performance incentives.

Sony's deal is reportedly for a similar amount, though none of Wie's representatives or her father, BJ, would confirm that.

Annika Sorenstam, the top-ranked female golfer in the world, made $7.5 million on and off the golf course last year, according to Golf Digest. LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens believes Wie's breakthrough will give all female athletes the opportunity to make more in endorsements.

Berlin, whose company will represent Wie in all her pro endeavors, has eyes only for one.

"Today Michelle is about to embark on a new journey in golf with the LPGA, the PGA tour and international golf," he said "Beyond that, I predict a more glorious journey for Michelle as she comes of age as a woman, as an athlete, as a personality, as a role model, as a leader."

Wie's first decision as a pro was to pledge $500,000 to the U.S. Golf Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. "It's just a random number I threw out there," Wie explained when asked how she decided what to donate.

In comparison, Vijay Singh had made golf's most well-reported individual donation previously, giving $75,000.

"Turning pro has a lot of benefits," Wie said. "I'm so grateful for that option and to be in a position to help people. Last month so many people lost so many things, and it was heart-wrenching. I felt like it's my duty to donate $500,000 to Hurricane Katrina and every single cent will go to the people."

Beginning with next week's Samsung World Championship, a women's tournament in Palm Desert, Calif., Wie can keep the prize money she couldn't accept while an amateur. If she had been a pro during the past four years, she would have won more than $990,000 in 24 starts on the LPGA tour.

Wood said his company has been working with the Wies for 18 months on the 14 Nike clubs that will fill her bag next week. She will use the new Sasquatch driver and fairway woods, and the Nike One Platinum ball. Her shoes and apparel will all be swooshed, and she and her mom will be free to offer the company design ideas, an option to all Nike athletes.

Wood said he expects the first Michelle Wie commercial to be out in the "next few months."

"Michelle is a unique individual," Wood said. "She is a person with the potential to transcend her sport. From a Nike brand perspective, it will be great to tell that story as it unfolds."

He sees Wie having a dramatic impact on the women's and kids' golf lines. He grew more animated as he spoke of her impact overseas. Wie is fluent in Korean and proficient enough in Japanese and Mandarin to deliver her new business partners' messages in their coveted Asian markets.

"Her ability to communicate in a native language will be absolutely huge," Wood said. "Being from Hawai'i and Korean-American, we'll look to the Far East as much as the U.S. in terms of what she can do."

Fasulo said Sony will use Wie's youthful image and "road warrior" existence to market its electronics products. He said her performance can be enhanced technically by Sony's position as a leader in high definition.

He also spoke of her playing in the 2006 Sony Open of Hawai'i, an annual tournament at the Waialae Country Club that she has previously competed in. He said an exemption that would allow her to play in the men's tournament could be announced before the end of the month.

Berlin, or a member of his William Morris team, plans to be with Wie every step of the way "in sports, sponsorship, commercials, books, other literary products." He also sees her young, multicultural image as a huge asset.

"She will be as popular as you have ever seen an American athlete in Asia," Berlin said.

He added that the search for more deals would be limited to "a few companies who get" the fact that Wie's tender age and commitment to finishing at Punahou will limit what she can do.

According to Wie, she picked the William Morris agency best known for its Hollywood clientele because she would be its only golf client, and it allowed the most flexibility.

"It came down to me being an only child," Wie explained, grinning. "I'm used to the exclusivity, I guess. It came down to that. Really."

It also came down to Wie's wondrous talents, in golf.

"She's in a whole new category," Nike's Wood said. "Obviously she's been preparing for this a very long time. She knows what she's getting into. She's been swimming in that pool for awhile. She knows how the water is and knows where the sharks are. ... She has an opportunity to take women's golf not just to another level, but three levels higher."

All that could wait, though. After her historic morning, Wie was too tired to go to her classes at Punahou, so she took a nap.

NOTES

  • Kapi'olani Children's Miracle Network released a limited edition "Miracles by Michelle Wie" button yesterday, commemorating her new pro career and next week's Sweet 16 birthday. Wie helped raise funds for the organization through her Miracle Birdie Club at this year's Sony Open in Hawai'i. The organization supports children's programs and services at Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children.

  • Gov. Linda Lingle issued a release yesterday praising Wie's $500,000 donation to victims of Hurricane Katrina. "(It) speaks volumes about her character and her compassion," Lingle wrote. "All the people of Hawai'i should be extremely proud not just of Michelle's athletic accomplishments, but of her ability to be a terrific role model for our youth and an outstanding representative of our state."

    Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.