Michelle Wie sees no cons to turning pro

Less than a week into her pro career, golf prodigy Michelle Wie isn’t seeing any cons.

The Korean-American schoolgirl celebrated her 16th birthday on Tuesday at the Bighorn Golf Club, where she will make her pro debut on Thursday in the $850 000 LPGA Samsung World Championship.

“Of course it took a lot of planning, a lot of discussion, what are the cons and what are the pros of turning pro,” said Wie, who made her decision official on October 5.

“All of a sudden I said, ‘I think I’m ready for it.’ I really want to do it and I think I made a good decision,” Wie said, adding that the encouragement of South African golfer Ernie Els had helped her see herself making the move.

“I talked to him, and he is like, ‘You’re ready to turn pro,’” she recalled. “It made me feel a lot better.”

The move to the pro ranks immediately transformed the high school student into a multimillionaire.

“Just the other day I got my first tax form,” Wie said. “I was excited about that.
I know it’s not something you should be excited about, but it’s pretty cool for me.”

Deals with Nike and Sony will bring Wie nearly $10-million, making her the wealthiest woman in golf and trailing only tennis stars Maria Sharapova of Russia and Serena Williams, a fellow American, in endorsement income.

She has signed a representation deal with the William Morris Agency, known for Hollywood connections rather than sporting ones.

However, the self-possessed teenager said she didn’t feel added pressure to perform.

“I don’t see it as pressure. I see it as incentive to practice harder,” she said.

Wie is looking forward to getting her driver’s license when she returns home next week now that she’s reached the legal US driving age. She is already enjoying a few perks of life as a professional.

“I was so excited when I got my name on my bag. Usually when you’re an amateur, you can’t have your name on your bag. Then my Sony bag came in and it had my name on it,” said Wie, noting the sponsor also came up with a bunch of “gadgets” for her birthday.

She looked a little surprised when Bighorn officials presented her with a birthday cake on Tuesday, but gamely blew out the candles for photographers.

Wie insisted her new status won’t distract her from her main aims—to win tournaments on any tour she plays and to improve her game enough to be a contender against the men on the PGA Tour.

While Wie must wait another two years to meet the LPGA minimum age requirement, she hasn’t missed a cut in any LPGA event she has played over the past two years.

She was runner-up to Swedish superstar Annika Sorenstam at the 2005 LPGA Championship and tied for third at the British Women’s Open.

If she had been a pro all season, Wie would have earned more than $700 000.

But it’s her outspoken desire to take on the men—and to play the hallowed Masters—that has sparked the attention of non-traditional golf fans and made her a media star.

“I just love playing the PGA Tour events,” she said. “I realise I have to gain a little more distance. I’m still going to play a couple each year. It’s still going to be my goal to be able to make the cut, to be able to compete in the PGA events and to one day play in the Masters. That’s my goal.

“But I have other goals. I think I’m going to focus on winning more tournaments ... that’s going to be my major focus over the next couple of years.”

First up is the elite 20-woman Samsung World Championship, where she is paired on Thursday with Cristie Kerr in the penultimate group off the first tee.

She played here as an amateur last year and finished tied for 13th.

“I think I’m a lot more mature than last year,” she said.

“I have grown up a lot since last year. My game hopefully is more consistent.” - Sapa-AFP

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