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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 30, 2006

LPGA would benefit from more of Michelle

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By Bill Kwon

With just six LPGA exemptions available, Michelle Wie could round out her schedule on the men’s tours.

JOSE OMAR ORNELAS | Palm Springs Desert Sun

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After shooting a final-round 66 to finish one stroke from making the Fields Open in Hawai'i playoff, Michelle Wie said she couldn't wait for her "next tournament."

Reporters there quickly asked, "When's that?"

Well, more than a month later, that next tournament is finally here.

It is the Kraft Nabisco Championship beginning today at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

All eyes again will be on the 16-year-old golf phenom to see if she can finally break through with her first tour victory in the LPGA's first major of the year. Wie has played well in the event the past three years — tied for ninth, fourth and tied for 14th.

This year's Kraft Nabisco was scheduled a week later so as not to conflict with the PGA Tour's Players Championship for golf fans.

A good move by the LPGA, although Saturday's round will compete for television viewership with college basketball's Final Four.

And you know what the irony is?

The LPGA will need a headline-grabbing performance by Wie, who's not a member of its tour, to make any blip in the TV ratings on the weekend, especially Saturday.

It has come to this for the women's tour even though these girls rock: the LPGA needs Michelle Wie more than Michelle Wie needs the LPGA.

With that in mind, it's a wonder that the LPGA doesn't increase the number of sponsor's exemptions from six to seven, enabling Wie to appear in one more event.

That is, until Wie turns 18 and can become eligible for membership.

For that matter, why not lower the age requirement to 17 and get it over with?

Call it Michelle exemptions, if you want. But it's a way to get her into more events next year, making it a win-win situation for the LPGA and the local golf wonder.

Wie took some heat for not playing in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay. But it turned out to be a shrewd decision on her part.

It gave Wie wiggle room to fill out her allowed six exemptions with the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship and the Samsung World Championship.

Playing in the SBS Open would have meant missing one of those two prestigious and big-money events.

If the LPGA ups the number of exemptions to seven — the number the PGA Tour allows — it would save Wie from having to make a similar choice in the two Hawai'i events next February. It would be a win-win situation for Turtle Bay and Ko Olina.

As for this year, Wie's LPGA schedule is set.

After Kraft Nabisco, she will play in the McDonald's LPGA Championship in June, the Women's Match Play Championship and the Evian Masters in July, the Weetabix Women's British Open in August and the Samsung World Championship in October.

The USGA is expected to give Wie an exemption to the U.S. Women's Open if she fares well this week. Both the U.S. and British Women's Open events are not run by the LPGA, so it doesn't count toward Wie's six exemptions.

BJ Wie says that his daughter will try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open if need be. It's an event Wie has played in the past three years, making the cut each time.

One way or another, you know the USGA won't let it be the only women's major without Wie in the championship field.

With her women's schedule booked, Wie's only option for the rest of the summer is to seek sponsor's exemptions on the PGA Tour.

Wie, who played in the Sony Open in Hawai'i, has booked three other men's events so far this year, including the SK Telcom Open, an Asian Tour stop, in South Korea in May, and a return November date at the Casio World Open in Japan.

She also just added the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, where she was a huge hit last year.

The event in Illinois is the week after the Women's World Match Play Championship in Cleveland.

The other logical event that would also nicely dovetail into Wie's schedule is the Reno-Tahoe Open, played the week opposite the limited-field World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational.

The Reno-Tahoe, which is struggling to find a title sponsor and is iffy on the 2007 PGA schedule, will be played Aug. 24 to 27, an ideal way to end Wie's summer sojourn before returning for her senior year at Punahou School.

As for the Reno-Tahoe Open, BJ Wie said, "That could be an option."

Wie would be a big crossover publicity hit in both men's events, which could use the extra ink with Michelle's Tigeresque presence.

It's another reason why she plays against the men. It's the option left for her with only six LPGA exemptions.