Taking On A Wie Bit Of Pressure

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - October 12, 2005
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It was the most anticipated yet unsurprising press conference in the state since the University of Hawaii invited everyone to stop by for a chat regarding Fred vonAppen seven seasons ago.

Michelle Wie is golf’s newest $10 million woman. In fact, she is golf’s only $10 million woman, surpassing LPGA queen-pin Annika Sorenstam by a good $2.5 million. And be as jaded as you want. But when your first act as a professional is to take $500,000 from your suddenly deep pockets and give it to those suffering from back-to-back hurricanes, it has to make you feel good about the person and her future. Her work with the Kapi`olani Children’s Miracle Network should also be applauded. But no matter how talented and likeable she is, and she’s got charisma out the whazoo, her future is not guaranteed.


She’s now playing for real, against seasoned professionals who don’t have to worry about botany tests or the indignation of large pimples on prom night. And thumbs up to whoever the young man is who braves the protective parents, agents, consultants, business reps and on site security to ask one of the world’s most famous athletes, “hey, um, if you’re not doing anything, would you like to go to the dance with me, or something?” Many men have faced less danger for far greater reward.

Michelle Wie has everything to - get ready for the cliche - transcend her sport. And the question is not whether she can win or help Nike, Sony and a dozen other companies move product from the shelves, but if in the attempt to “be the next Tiger” she puts too much pressure on herself.

“It’s a balancing act,” said her agent and William Morris vice president and head of golf Ross Berlin. “In this case, you’ve got the added complexity of balancing not only golf and other interests, but school. We believe we will be successful in doing that balancing act, but it’s going to be a tightrope walk.”

No question. Tiger Woods has his name on everything. Hats, shirts, clubs, cars, shoes and soon to be released Garanimals childrens’ wear. And if Michelle is content with just having her signature etched on adorable pink golf shoes, hats, gloves and those big loopy earrings people can’t stop talking about, then she’ll be fine. However, if she tries to be the next Serena - another William Morris client - mixing sport with commercials, modeling, television and clothing design, she could come up short athletically. And that would be a tremendous loss. Young talents come along each year, few are able to stay. Has anyone seen Ty Tryon lately?

What works in Wie’s favor is her maturity. Though her image is that of a part-time giggler on camera, she is anything but flighty.

“She has a say in everything,” Berlin said. “She reads agreements. She comments on negotiations. She has a level of maturity I’ve never seen before.”

Considering William Morris’ entertainment base that’s not surprising.


Wie will finish high school, and though she says she wants to attend college and possibly take “one or two classes for however long it takes,” the odds are slim she will ever set foot on campus. And that’s fine. People go to college to get a good job. And Michelle now has a very good job! And even if pursuing a degree is her current plan, where is she going to fit it in? She is already scheduled to make commercials for release in Korea, Japan and China. Of course, she’ll handle all three languages herself.

Corporations are looking at Wie much like Nike did toward Michael Jordan. As a person who can cross lines of gender, age and race. No easy feat.

“I think what William Morris believes is that this [signing Wie] is part of a new William Morris era in which we have entertainment, sports, music, movies and books and the service that William Morris provides to their clients is access to all these things,” Berlin said. “In this case I think Michelle is interested in some of those things whether it’s fashion or modeling, and we’ll see if she moves into those areas.”

She will. She almost has to. There are millions of dollars at stake and a generation of consumers to embrace. It’s surely a reason why Berlin has no other clients. That’s how big this deal is. So long as her greatest focus is on walking fairways and not catwalks, she’ll be fine. If not, there is a name for someone beautiful, famous and athletically unfulfilled: Anna Kournikova. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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