December 18 • 01:50 PM
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Wie will make millions for being different
submitted by Travis
September 20, 2005 | 04:55 PM

As the father of two young daughters, I've come to understand the importance of balancing common sense and compassion, whether it's in a fight over a toy or the sound of the ice cream truck rolling down the street 20 minutes before dinner. The same application might serve us well when assessing the future of Michelle Wie. She's ready to declare herself a professional golfer, about to become uncommonly rich and unduly famous -- terms dictated by the market for a 15-year-old phenom who hits it like a man and likes to compete against men, but otherwise projects the same sweet tooth for life as Holly Golightly.

Sounds like a winner to me, except that Wie hasn't really won anything, complicating a script that takes on added depth via the calculated tactics of an omnipresent father and red-carpet overtures of celeb-friendly management agency William Morris. Paula Creamer just led the United States to victory in the Solheim Cup. Morgan Pressel recently cruised to victory at the U.S. Women's Amateur, yet Wie is the teenage girl who will cash the biggest endorsement checks. One might easily wonder if the timing of her signing is a sign of the times.

With her sense of style, background and values, Wie will make millions in endorsements.

And so Style beats Substance, 3 and 2, which should surprise no one living in a country where TV shows breathlessly report the birth of Britney Spears' baby or the scent of Jessica Simpson's bath water. No matter how many trophies she does or doesn't have, Wie is an exceptionally marketable young lady, and thus, will be paid accordingly. She will make a lot of money overseas and represent products other golfers (male or female) simply lack the identity for. Not because she is "better" than Creamer or Pressel. Not even by virtue of that huge potential. It's because she is different.

That always has been the story line here. Michelle Wie has separated herself from all her age peers and on-course competitors by precociously branding herself as a "pioneer." It's a bulletproof commercial platform because it doesn't necessarily require a high level of execution. On this road less traveled, you can earn just as many points for the venture as the actual result. Success is measured in very subjective terms: Wie enters a PGA Tour event, plays well but misses the cut, then vows to do better the next time.

She is undaunted by the pursuit because it continues to yield a reward. As long as Michelle keeps trying to beat men, there will be plenty of sponsorship dollars. Like the American flag or a burning bra, she stands for something. All the conventional wisdom in the world isn't going to change that.

In researching and reporting the story of Wie turning pro, I spoke to a number of people, many of them in the golf industry, who were unwilling to go on the record with their thoughts because the announcement wasn't official. A lot of the stuff was negative in tone, making it difficult to publish because it fell in the sour-grapes or axe-to-grind category. Still, it was very useful information because it forced a balance of perspective -- a journalist's mix of common sense and compassion.

One of the biggest issues regards Wie's choice of a management company. William Morris has never represented a pro golfer, nor has the man it hired to guide Wie's career, Ross Berlin, held such responsibilities with another pro athlete. It's as if any designs Wie has to become "famous" are basically sacrilegious, as if the 2003 winner of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links title should turn down the chance to appear on the "Late Show with David Letterman" out of sheer principle.

I don't know about you, but if my daughter wins a spelling bee and Letterman's people call, there's a fairly decent chance we'll be outside waiting for the limo.

One intelligent person told me that Wie won't further the LPGA's cause by reasoning, "You look at the demographics of women's golf -- you've got a lot of 50-, 60- and 70-year-old women going to these events. Fifteen-year-old girls are not watching LPGA events on TV."

I thought about that for a while, at least until my memory tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me of the thousands upon thousands of kids, minorities and otherwise demographically challenged people who have paid good money to watch Tiger Woods over the years.

In the curious case of Michelle Wie, time will provide the answers, and when the questions involve someone who is 15, there is an abundance of that. Maybe she'll turn into Michelle McGann; maybe she's Tiger with a ponytail. All we know now is that the road less traveled is paved in gold bricks, the journey as lucrative as the destination is uncertain.

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