LPGA needs Wie to be face of tour
By Ferd Lewis
Not that somebody who is already knocking down upwards of $12.5 million a year really needs a job, but the LPGA Tour has a position that would be perfect for Michelle Wie:
The LPGA's top-ranked player the past four years, Lorena Ochoa, officially announced her retirement from the tour yesterday in Mexico City and it has an opening for a somebody to be the new face of its enterprise. Actually it is desperate for one.
With Ochoa's departure on the heels of Annika Sorenstam's exit, the LPGA will have lost two reigning No. 1s in less than five years. Worse yet, there is no heir apparent. Certainly not one that universally pumps up galleries, excites TV audiences and rallies sponsors, anyway.
This is where Wie, a Punahou School alum and current Stanford student, could come in. And not a moment too soon, either.
An LPGA that has been diminished by the economy and poor management, has seen its number of tournaments shrink to just 26 from 32 in just two years, barely half of them in the U.S. anymore. Moreover prize money and ratings have both taken precipitous drops.
And, now, Ochoa, the gracious golfer who characteristically opened her interviews with "hello" is saying "adios."
Ochoa has won 27 times in six years, was a classy champion and gave the LPGA entry into heretofore untapped Hispanic markets. But what women's professional golf needs now, frankly what it cries out for, is someone with strong U.S. identity and global reach.
There are a handful of young, talented golfers on the rise including Paula Creamer, Yani Tseng and Ai Miyazato. But none of them currently pack the buzz of Wie. All have won more LPGA events than Wie's one but none has managed to capture imaginations or followings the way she has.
Love her or be rubbed the wrong way by her — and the sides are well represented — few ignore Wie. Remarkably, Wie's showing in the 2009 SBS Open at Turtle Bay remains one of the most-watched LPGA tournaments in years — and she didn't even win.
When she does begin taking trophy laps around the 18th green, Wie will be even much more of a magnet. And therein lies the question: When will she establish herself as a frequent winner?
Wie's first career LPGA victory came in November in the Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico, her hometown. Now, we'll see if Wie can step into her FootJoys as the LPGA's top player.