Wie playing it down the middle
SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. -- Michelle Wie is playing her cards just right.
Shirt, shoes and socks by adidas. Glove by Footjoy. A cap emblazoned with "Ledbetter Golf," the golf school in Florida where she honed her swing last winter.
And in her bag ...
"I have a Nike driver, I have Titleist irons, Scotty Cameron putter [Titleist], Vokey wedges [Titleist] and a Titleist Pro V1X [ball]," Wie said, rattling off name after name of potential products that one day soon could be vying for her endorsement, after finishing even-par 71 through Thursday's first round of the Women's U.S. Open.
But executives with those companies shouldn't think they've got their foot in the door with Wie, the 14-year-old women's amateur with the PGA Tour swing off the tee. Wie may someday surpass Serena Williams as the reigning queen of endorsements, but for the time being the millions of dollars will have to await her decision to turn professional, which could be another four years or more down the road.
So, Nike executives who are happy with Wie's choice of driver for the U.S. Open must live with the fact that she is featured on the current issue of "Golf for Women" magazine with a Callaway driver resting on her shoulder. Adidas officials glad to see her wearing their company's spikes might have noticed the Nike swoosh on the shoes worn by her mother, Bo, who follows her daughter from hole to hole.
"It's like the day she turns pro is the day she says she's going to the Sadie Hawkins dance," LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said, referring to the high school event that breaks with tradition -- the girls ask the guys for the date. "Companies are circling around hoping that they all want to be lined up in a way where they can hope, 'Maybe it will be me.' "
Wie, whose big swing and steady putting have earned her sponsor exemptions to play in various LPGA and PGA Tour events over the past year, is playing the endorsement game that only a handful of coveted athletes have played before.
After Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant parted ways with adidas two years ago, he alternated wearing Reebok and Nike shoes on the basketball court until he signed a five-year, $45 million contract with Nike last summer. After adidas' deal expired with St. Vincent-St. Mary high school, LeBron James gave Nike a chance for the last half of his senior season. Months later, he signed a seven-year, $90 million endorsement deal with the company.
Much like high school basketball players who receive free shoes and apparel from manufacturers while still maintaining their college eligibility, Wie doesn't have to pay a cent for her gear -- ironically, to do so could jeopardize her amateurism.
As long as she is not paid to wear the items and she is not used in advertisements, she can accept them without payment. Buying the clothes at a discount unavailable to the general public would be a violation, according to Donna Mummert, manager of rules of golf and amateur status for the United States Golf Association.
Manufacturers can send Wie gear or equipment to wear or play on the course, as long as the logo on those items is of standard size.
Since a young golfer in this marketing-crazy world has never been this sought after before college, such a case is unprecedented.
Said Mummert: "Her parents call to double check quite often. Whenever there is a question, they want to make sure they are doing everything right."
Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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