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

Wie will have target on her back

 •  Wie takes first steps in a brilliant career
 •  Banking on a one-and-only
 •  World watches Wie begin 'new journey'
 •  Millions richer, but best yet to come
 •  To other kids, Wie's a shining example

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Michelle Wie made her entrance into professional status on golden high heels yesterday lacking only a red carpet and sounding of trumpets to make it as regal as it was noteworthy.

With a Nike swoosh over her heart and flanked by sponsors who will pay as much as $10 million per year for the next five years for the association, the 15-year-old stepped boldly and, for the most part, confidently, into uncharted waters.

Suddenly, the classes at Punahou School she promised to return to for the day, seemed a lot more than five miles away.

Just as quickly, the age of innocence is vanishing, too. For as Wie acknowledged: "Everything is at a higher stake (now)."

Whether the second half of her hopeful statement "it'll be so much more fun" also holds true for the journey remains to be seen.

You hope so because she's been the kind of bright, refreshing act that, with the kind of success her performance to date portends, who can do so much for the sport. With her energy and talents, she can push even further the ropes of imagination and convention that Tiger Woods began stretching a decade earlier.

She has, within her audacious makeup, the opportunity to redefine what is possible in the sport and get people to accept new frontiers. She has the "voom" factor to bring new fans and additional riches to golf.

Yet, as the new kid on the block and the youngest and richest one at that you wonder if the pro circuits LPGA, PGA and international she is targeting are any more ready or open-minded about her than they initially were for Woods. You wonder if the same overriding envy and bitterness that greeted Woods' arrival will confront Wie as well.

In time, Woods showed how he could help lift not only the game but its exposure and paydays to new heights for everybody on the PGA Tour. Some of his competitors grasped the golden goose concept early on and stepped over bruised egos on the way to the bank. Most needed the first lucrative A. T. after Tiger television contract to get the picture.

"Let's face it, now that she's a professional none of her competitors are going to be welcoming her with open arms," said Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf. "They are going to want to beat her brains out. I mean, this is competition."

Competition, the kind that lifts everybody's game, is one thing and good for all. Petty jealousy and simmering bitterness that hold everybody back are quite another. Wie, as an age-group, gender barrier-busting revolutionary, who will be making more than Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, probably won't escape them. They could be waiting for her as soon as next week at Samsung World Championship in Palm Desert, Calif.

To date, those who have competed against her, whether on the LPGA or PGA tours have kept the grousing to a minmium. For every John Cook or Fred Funk, many more like Ernie Els and Paul Azinger have offered support, or at least kept their tongue. For every short-sighted Morgan Pressel, there has been a big picture Paula Creamer.

But that was when Wie took, by sponsor's exemption, one spot away from a 144-player field. When any money she was entitled to and Wie would have been 13th on this year's LPGA money list with winnings of $640,870 in just seven starts stayed in the pot and Nike and Sony weren't writing checks.

Now that she'll be taking away prize money and, as yesterday underlined, raking in record sponsor moolah, the goodwill figures to fade like the days of having to win $5 challenges from her dad to have mall money. That might be especially true with those who made their way on tour through qualifying schools or have been unable to get sponsors on their bags.

"I think she knows what she's getting into," Wood said. "She's been swimming in that pool for a while. She knows how the water is and she knows where the sharks are."

The difference is the size of the dollar sign on her back now.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.