$10 Million a Year to Play Golf? No Thanks
Like millions of teenagers, B.J. Wie's daughter has a new idea every week about what she wants to do when she grows up. Michelle, 13, has dreamed of becoming a lawyer, a stockbroker, and a college professor like her dad. But it wouldn't stun anyone if her final career choice comes with a little white ball and a gallery full of admirers.
Although she's just an eighth grader from Honolulu, she startled the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. Tour in March, making a serious run at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a major tourney. Veteran golfers doubt it will be the last time that Michelle, already one of women's golf's longest hitters, scares the pros. In January, she failed to earn a spot in the PGA Tour's Sony Open, but posted a lower score than 46 of 96 male pros in the qualifier. "Everyone talks about her amazing power. The sound of her ball [off the club] is unfamiliar in women's golf," says former LPGA star Jane Blalock.
Next stop is the LPGA's Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in Atlanta on Apr. 25-27, one of six LPGA tournaments Wie is invited to this year. "The big question we're getting is: 'Does Michelle really hit the ball 300 yards?' People will be coming out to see her," says tournament director Torrey Gane, who expects attendance to jump to 80,000, up from 60,000 last year. The men's Canadian Professional Golf Tour also is cashing in on Michelle Mania. The minor-league tour has Wie in the field for the Bay Mills Open Players' Championship in August.
In fact, one of the few yet to make a buck on Michelle is Michelle herself. But unlike teen star Ty Tryon, now 18, who has struggled since ditching his Florida high school team to join the PGA Tour last year, Michelle expects to be an amateur when she bids good-bye to the 12th grade. "Ty Tryon made a lot of money after turning pro, but he might not have been ready," says Michelle. "I don't want to make a lot of money for a couple of months and then not be ready."
So far, that has been an expensive decision for B.J. Wie, a University of Hawaii transportation professor, and his wife, Bo, a real estate agent and former Korean amateur champ. This year, the Wies, who emigrated from Korea in the 1980s, will spend some $50,000 for travel, coaching, and other golf bills. Next year, they're likely to spend $70,000. After high school, the Wies have their sights set on a university scholarship for Michelle, possibly Stanford, where Tiger Woods spent two years before turning pro.
When he did, Tiger reeled in close to $100 million in deals right off the bat. Wie would be worth "more than any woman golfer out there," as much as $50 million over five years in endorsement deals alone, predicts Blalock, now head of a Boston sports marketing agency. "She's a conversation piece."
If Michelle studies hard, her college graduation will be in 2011, when Sorenstam turns 41 -- and Augusta National Golf Club might even be getting around to admitting its first woman member. "Money is good. I love money," jokes B.J. "But signing [endorsement] contracts isn't going to make Michelle happy." Try telling that to LeBron.
By Mark Hyman