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Wie Might Turn Pro at 18 if They Show Her Money

March 27, 2004|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Michelle Wie says she will consider turning pro when she is 18, if she gets what she wants.

"Tiger money," Wie said.

"If someone comes up with a hundred million dollars. Or a big briefcase -- someone opens it up and shows me all the money."

Tiger Woods was 20 and had just finished his sophomore year at Stanford when he turned pro in September of 1996 and signed a five-year endorsement deal with Nike for an estimated $45 million.

B.J. Wie said he had already had discussions with LPGA Tour Commissioner Ty Votaw about his 14-year-old daughter's pro potential and that she would not petition Votaw for early admission at 17, as she is allowed to do.

But turning pro at 18?

"It's possible, yeah," the elder Wie said. "When she is mature enough ... and she is getting more mature every year. We feel comfortable with the LPGA rules on age. Michelle is very comfortable with them too."

Since Michelle burst upon the scene at last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship when she tied for ninth as a 13-year-old eighth-grader, the Wies have maintained that Michelle would certainly attend college and stay all four years. Stanford has been mentioned often.

B.J. Wie backed off that stance Friday at Mission Hills Country Club, where Michelle shot a second-round 72 and was tied for seventh in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. He said the pro timetable could be moved up.

"As it goes, we will see," he said. "She's only 14, so we have four years to go. She is very happy with the setup, the arrangement we have now."

Michelle is coached by David Leadbetter and Gary Gilchrist, who is in charge of the junior program for Leadbetter's golf academy in Bradenton, Fla. Leadbetter and Gilchrist have worked with Wie about changing the plane of her swing to improve her accuracy. She has also switched from a Titleist driver with a 7.5-degree loft to a Callaway Great Big Bertha II 415 driver with a 9.3-degree loft.

"We can all see her potential," Gilchrist said. "If she turned pro tomorrow, she would be good enough to play on the LPGA Tour.

"Definitely, by the time she's 18, she'll be more than ready. In four years, there are two ways to go. Does she want to and is there financial support for her to turn pro, or does she really want to go to college? College is a lot of work, especially at Stanford. It's definitely going to be one of the biggest decisions they ever make."

The Kraft Nabisco is Wie's ninth LPGA Tour event since 2003. Her best result was her tie for ninth last year at Mission Hills, but she has missed only one cut, at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic. She also missed the cut by one shot at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in January.

Her rounds here of 69-72 and 141 total are five shots better than her first two rounds a year ago.

Wie said college was still in her plans, in some form.

"I still want to go to college, even if I turn pro," she said. "I would not go straight from high school full time into the pros."

She said she would prefer the sort of schedule she now plays, the maximum of six sponsors' exemptions that the LPGA allows, if she were not exempt any other way after turning pro. Wie said she could still play the LPGA Tour and go to college.

Votaw, who did not want to detail his conversations with the elder Wie, said he has had a good relationship with the Wie family since Michelle played in her first LPGA event, the Takefuji Classic, in 2002.

"I've been very, very impressed with how grounded she is and I give her parents a tremendous amount of credit for that," he said.

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