WIE MISSES CUT FOR U.S. OPEN
Wie shines, even in defeat
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By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
For 10 hours yesterday, on a gorgeous day in New Jersey, the worlds of golf, marketing and celebrity stopped to stare at the phenom that is 16-year-old Michelle Wie.
This was the scene surrounding the Canoe Brook Country Club's North and South courses in Summit, N.J., yesterday as Wie attempted what no woman has accomplished — to become the first female golfer to qualify for the U.S. Open:
At the end of the day, USGA spokesman Marty Parkes summed up the event as "certainly not your typical U.S. Open sectional qualifier. Today was an unprecedented day in history."
For weeks, officials from the USGA and the local Metropolitan Golf Association have been meeting over how to contain Michelle Mania — such as finding parking for the overflow crowd at The Mall at Short Hills nearby and all of the extra security and staff to deal with credentials and crowds, said Kevin O'Connor, who oversees the USGA's Web site.
"We had to discuss all of the things that normally don't come up in a sectional qualifier," O'Connor said. "Michelle Wie is the reason this is so different. I can't remember another time when we had this kind of interest for a player in sectional qualifying."
Part of the crush came from the opportunity to see a potential golf legend in the making — all for free. And Wie had already made history, as the first female to win a qualifier to advance to the sectional.
Wie satisfied her fans' expectations until she bogeyed three consecutive holes near the end and finished with a 3-over-par 75 in the second round. Wie, competing against 152 men for 18 spots at the U.S. Open, finished the 36 holes with a 1-over-par 143. The Open will be held at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., later this month.
Even in defeat, Wie commands celebrity status. The Associated Press quoted her parents as saying that she will throw out the first pitch at Camden Yards today when the Baltimore Orioles play Toronto.
A NATURAL CELEBRITY
David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute, called the image and persona of the Punahou teenager nothing short of "magical."
There's Wie's 6-foot-1 height. Her Korean-American looks that generate worldwide ethnic appeal. Wie's adoring audience that spans young girls to grandparents.
And, of course, Wie has flashed a delightful, teenage perspective on the world at large that has captivated viewers from "60 Minutes" to "Late Night With David Letterman."
"There are just some celebrities that seem to transcend their sports," said Lynn Kahle, professor of marketing at the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "She's just a natural who comes across as a real teenager. Sometimes these people who are put out as prodigies come across as overly manufactured and overly controlled. With Michelle Wie, it's not a phony grace and poise. At this point, Michelle Wie is clearly a person of substance, as well as a great golfer. She's good looking. She's charming. She has all of the attributes you would want a good celebrity to have."
Jon Spoelstra, the author of the best-selling sports marketing book "Marketing Outrageously," said Wie has that intangible something that will draw thousands of fans on a work day.
"It's difficult to describe charisma, but you know it when you see it," Spoelstra said. "There's just sort of that halo that follows Michelle around and I can't explain that. But if you could bottle it, you could probably be worth more than Bill Gates."
From a marketing standpoint, Carter said, "she really hasn't made any mistakes. She hasn't compromised her reputation. In an era of athletes compromising their personal brand and the corporations they endorse, she has had no noticeable hiccups and that has made her an ongoing positive story, wrapped around the fact that her golf game is progressing. That puts her in very rare company."
Certainly, much of the interest in Wie came from her attempt at history — and from ordinary people's desire to see a future star in the making, Carter said.
Many of her fans, Carter expects, hope to be able to one day say that they saw "the greatest woman golfer of all time" as she started her career.
"Anticipating the upside potential for her is incredible," Carter said. "It's almost unimaginable how good she could become."
But how long can Wie continue to hold the public's interest without winning?
"She's set high expectations for people," said Michael Kamins, an associate professor at the Marshall School of Business at USC, who specializes in celebrity advertising. "But there's a limit to always being a bridesmaid. There's going to come a point soon where people will say, 'She disappoints me. I don't want to root for her because she frustrates me.' I would venture to say that point will come within the next year or two. She's just going to have to deliver."
If all goes well, Wie is just starting a career that could last for decades, Carter said.
"But this is America," Carter said. "You can only lose with grace for so long. At some point, you've got to win. But she still has a fair amount of room ahead of her."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.