Wie says pro the way to go

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Where once she seemed determined to explore the notion of higher education, Michelle Wie is about to succumb to the lure of vulgar wads of cash.

The 15-year-old golf phenom has talked for years about following Tiger Woods to Stanford University. Instead, it seems she's just going to follow him to the bank.

After a summer of rumours, Wie is expected to announce her decision to turn professional sometime in September.

On Oct. 11, Wie will turn 16 and, two days later, she is scheduled to tee it up in the Samsung World Championship in Palm Desert, Ca., an LPGA event. But unlike all those previous LPGA engagements where she competed as an amateur, Wie is expected to play Samsung as her first professional event.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Wie, her parents and her advisors are considering a contract offer from the William Morris Agency, a Hollywood management firm better known for its show business clientele than its athletes, though it does count Serena Williams, basketball star Kevin Garnett and boxer Oscar De La Hoya as part of its stable.

Wie has played in six LPGA events this year, including all four major championships, finishing second twice and third on another occasion. Had she been a professional, she would have a 2005 bankroll of just under $669,000 US.

Even though as soon as she signs on with a management firm she loses her amateur standing, it doesn't mean Wie immediately will become a full-fledged LPGA member. LPGA rules state that its members must be at least 18 years of age, though a player can ask for an exemption.

Even without full LPGA standing, Wie can be granted six sponsors exemptions -- which she could get in a heartbeat -- as well as six more on the PGA men's tour, where she has tried for a couple of years to make a cut. No matter what her accomplishments, however, she cannot join the LPGA until she survives qualifying school.

That said, she won't have too much trouble making ends meet.

She's not likely to get a Tiger-like deal ($45 million from Nike in 1996) but she might get half that.

That's how big her star is before she makes one swing as a pro.

Wie's career path has been the source of quite a bit of controversy. Ever since she was 12, she has more or less turned her back on amateur events for her own age and gender because she chose to play against pros of both sexes.

So, instead of winning multiple amateur age-group titles, Wie has been knocking heads, progressively more successfully, against professionals twice her age. Even Woods himself has suggested it might be better for Wie to dominate various age levels, learning to win, in preparation for a professional life. That's how Paula Creamer, an amateur star who turned pro successfully this year, did it.

"There's a lot of different ways to do stuff," Wie told Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson earlier this summer.

"The road can go left or it can go right. How do you ever know which way to go? It obviously worked for (Creamer). I couldn't play (junior) events because I was too young, so I did an LPGA qualifier. And once I started, I couldn't let go.

"A lot of people have different opinions since I'm not going the traditional way. But that's the way I've chosen to go. And I can't go back. It's not like I can wake up tomorrow and be eight-years-old again."

There is little concern she is in over her head, either emotionally or physically. Wie is one of the longest hitters in women's golf and the rest of her game is rapidly developing as well. Beyond that she is extremely well adjusted.

"She's going to come out when she's ready, probably sooner than later, and set the world on fire," said Jom Loehr, an Orlando sports psychologist who has been advising Wie.

"It's hard to hold somebody back like Michelle. There's something here that is truly extraordinary. I'm just trying to prepare her for what she's going to face."

Question is, who's preparing her competition for what they're going to face? Michelle Wie may not get a college education, but you can bet she'll take a few opponents to school.

Michelle Wie's 2005 LPGA earnings, had she been a professional:

BONUS BUCKS

- SBS Open (Hawaii)

T2 -- $78,976 US

- Kraft Nabisco Championship

T14 -- $25,175

- McDonalds LPGA Championship

2 -- $164,385

- US Women's Open

T23 -- 32,606

- Evian Masters

T2 -- $262,288

- British Women's Open

T3 -- $105,801

TOTAL -- $669,231


Videos

Photos