Wie proves again how crucial she is to LPGA Tour's future
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Two older men walked across a wooden bridge on the way to the 17th tee Saturday on the Champions course at LPGA Q-School. Let's call them Waldorf and Statler. "Celebrity worship, that's all this is," harrumphed Waldorf. "Yeah," said Statler. The two men walked a few paces. Then Waldorf spoke again: "But she's here, so it's a chance to see her in person."
LPGA Tour Q-school
1. Lewis (-15)
2. Wie (-14)
3. Yang (-13)
4. Oyama (-12)
T-5. Fankhauser (-11)
• Complete scores
"Michelle Wie is a great player and fan favorite," said LPGA deputy commissioner Libba Galloway. "We're excited about Michelle Wie, Ji-Yai Shin, Stacy Lewis and other promising young rookies competing with established stars like Lorena, Paula and Suzann [Pettersen] in 2009. LPGA fans across the globe should stay tuned for an exciting season of LPGA golf."These people don't look up the online leaderboard and then decide whether or not to show up. These people show up because Wie showed up. This week proves it, as Wie is not playing for a win, is not playing against anyone fans know well, and is not even playing for a better spot on Tour. All she has to do is place in the top 20 on Sunday and she's in. The chances of that are basically 100 percent. So these people just come to watch, and the LPGA needs fans like that badly. "We're entertainers, and we need to entertain," says Nicole Hage, 23, who is on the cusp of qualifying for full status after earning partial status last season. "She brings a lot of publicity wherever she goes. The media loves her. She brings a lot of people. So, of course, it'll help [to have her on Tour]." And the LPGA needs Wie now more than ever. Purses are down (by $5 million) and the event calendar is shrinking (by three events) in 2009. ADT pulled its sponsorship of the Tour's season-ending tournament. And if you haven't noticed, the economy is in trouble. This summer's language requirement fiasco highlighted yet another wrinkle to the Tour's challenges. The Korean players win a lot, and Korean television contracts are a crucial lifeline for the Tour, and yet American fans don't know the Koreans and don't care about them. That's in part because a few Korean Tour members don't speak superb English. Commissioner Carolyn Bivens strangely decided to force the issue and mandate conversational English, but that only blew up in her face. One of the young Koreans, Amy Yang, was told by her father after the ruling to stop watching Korean television and learn to speak English better. But Wie wound up in the same group with Yang on Saturday at Q-School, spoke with her in Korean on the course, and gave American reporters a five-hour introduction to Yang's sizzling iron game. (Yang hit every green in regulation on Saturday.) So Wie indirectly helped Yang's profile a lot more than an hour on Rosetta Stone. Of course, Bivens wouldn't have to worry so much about pleasing both American and Korean fans if Wie played on Tour, as Wie speaks fluent English and fluent Korean (except this week, when Wie isn't speaking to any media in any language until after the final round Sunday). Her galleries are always filled with both Asians and Caucasians, which is rare for any LPGA player. That helps especially as the Tour plays 11 of its 31 events outside the U.S. There are plenty of other reasons Wie spins turnstiles and spikes ratings. She's visually arresting, both for her height and her looks. She drives the ball longer than most players on Tour, and she has an array of shots that many Tour players don't have. She has a tendency to take risks and go for the incredible shot, which is not always smart though it is entertaining. And there's the Sarah Palin factor: There's always a chance Wie will live up to her enormous potential, and there's always a chance she'll screw up. So there's always a chance for personal drama, even when there's no chance for tournament drama. Some want her to fail; some want her to succeed. But ticket sales and Nielson ratings don't discriminate between love and hate. Eyes are eyes and dollars are dollars. The LPGA knows this, even if its officials won't admit it publicly. There is a merchandise tent set up by the 10th tee this week at Q-School. Fans can buy shirts and hats and all sorts of LPGA gear. Are sales up this year compared to last year? Probably so. There was no tent last year. Eric Adelson's book on Michelle Wie will be released in 2009, but is available for preorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2008 LPGA TOUR Q-SCHOOL FINALS
Michelle Wie has contended in women's majors and nearly made the cut of a PGA Tour event. One thing she's never owned, though, is official status on any professional circuit. That is, until she finished tied for seventh at 2008 Q-school.
What: LPGA Tour Q-school final stage
When: Dec. 3-7
Courses: LPGA International -- the Legends and Champions courses
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Field: 140 players
The Future• Adelson: Great expectations for Wie in 2009
Day 5• Adelson: Wie starts '09 season with 'clean slate'
• Watch: Wie discusses earning her Tour card
• Wie earns card; Lewis wins Q-school | Scores
Day 4• Adelson: Wie proves again her worth to LPGA
• Wie 1 off the lead with 18 to play | Scores
Day 3• Adelson: Wie might be shaken, but not stirred
• Wie's 72 leaves her in decent shape | Scores
Day 2• Adelson: Wie goes old school at Q-school
• Wie a contender after two rounds of Q-school
Day 1• Adelson: Wie steady as she goes in first round
• Wie opens with 69 on tough Q-school course