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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 19:10 GMT 20:10 UK
Michelle's millions
By Matt Slater
Golf editor

The hour before school started was always a busy time for me.

Michelle Wie
Wie strikes a golf ball like nobody else in the women's game
Newsagents to visit, the previous night's television to discuss, girls to pretend to ignore, homework to "check" - I was often far too busy to actually get to school inside that hour.

But then I wasn't Michelle Wie.

The conscientious American has time to become a professional golfer, multi-millionaire and global brand between breakfast and the first bell.

Wie, the most talked-about amateur golfer since Tiger Woods, joined the pro ranks on Wednesday at 0800 Honolulu time.

Having announced her decision at the Kahala Mandarin Hotel, the 15-year-old then reported for her first class of the day at the nearby Punahou School.

Six days short of her 16th birthday, she carried this off with all the insouciant poise she has shown on the course since announcing her talent to the world two years ago.

A winner of the US Women's Amateur Public Links Championship at 13, a 14-year-old Wie then narrowly missed becoming the first woman to make a cut on the men's US tour since 1945.

This year she has had two more respectable cracks at events on the men's tour and enjoyed a wonderful season on the women's tour.

There have been no wins, but three runner-up finishes and a share of third at the Women's British Open would have helped to earn her over 350,000 if she had taken the professional plunge at the start of the season rather than the end.

SPORT'S RICHEST WOMEN
Michelle Wie with the best amateur prize at the Women's British Open
1 Maria Sharapova (tennis), 10.4m
2 Serena Williams (tennis), 7.2m
3 Annika Sorenstam (golf), 4.2m
4 Venus Williams (tennis), 3.7m
5 Lindsay Davenport (tennis), 3.4m
Total earnings in 12 months to June 2005 - Tiger Woods earned 49.5m in same period
But Wie, carefully steered by her university professor father BJ, has known ever since she unfurled her first 300-yard drive that paper profits not realised during her amateur career will soon be forgotten once the marketing men's cheques can be banked.

Such is the interest generated by the six-footer, Wie will tee off in her first pro event on 13 October as her sport's top female earner.

Big hitters like Nike and Sony did not have to wait for Wie to actually win something. They have liked what they have seen for some time, and were more than willing to hand her deals worth a rumoured 5.7m.

These endorsements, and others in the pipeline, will see her bound past world number one Annika Sorenstam's earnings. The Swede may have won nine majors but that's only good enough for 4m in sponsorship deals.

Next in Wie's sights will be the top female sports earners, tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.

Sharapova may have good looks and a Grand Slam title to her name, but even the sultry Siberian will struggle to keep up in the bank account stakes once Wie opens her shoulders.

Speaking to Golf World magazine, US-based sports agent Scott Seymour said: "She will be the most recognised female athlete on the planet for the next 12 to 18 months.

Once the apparel line gets rolling and you have a couple of other major endorsements [Wie's] earnings could reach $30-40m a year
Brandon Steiner
Steiner Sports Marketing
"Her marketability will never be higher than it is now."

Because not only is she capable of re-writing female golf's record books, Wie has an almost perfect profile for advertisers.

Born in Hawaii but from a Korean background, Wie is the ideal sponsorship vehicle for both golf's biggest current market, the US, and it's biggest new market, the Far East.

Tall, good-looking and articulate, Wie is already fluent in Korean and is studying Japanese and Chinese. It is no scheduling accident that her second pro event will be against men in Japan.

It is also no accident that the Jerry Maguire to Wie's Rod Tidwell will not be the tried-and-tested golf specialists IMG, but the Hollywood giant William Morris Agency.

William Morris looks after Serena too, but it is more famous for representing the likes of Clint Eastwood, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta - Wie's fame is not going to be limited to the fairway.

Michelle Wie
Wie is destined to be receiving male congratulations for some time
And in case you thought Tinseltown's big cats had got their claws into an impressionable kid, WMA had to agree to a reduced take from her earnings. Team Wie are also big-hitting negotiators.

"Once the apparel line gets rolling and you have a couple of other major endorsements her earnings could reach $30-40m a year," said Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports Marketing.

"There is such a shortage of women in the market place."

And it is that last comment that will set the parameters for the Wie debate over the coming years.

Will she be content with being the best player on the LPGA Tour - a circuit she cannot actually join until she is 18 - a la Sorenstam?

Or is she going to continue to chase her dream of playing against and beating men, both on the course and in the "market place"?

But that's a debate that can wait - until Wie's afternoon study hour, at least.




WATCH AND LISTEN
News conference: Michelle Wie




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