2005: Wie’s world includes myriad options

By James Achenbach

There will be no mini-tours for Michelle Wie, but there could be many tours.

Wie will be exploring new territory after turning pro this fall. Nobody before her has attempted to play such a diverse schedule, including both women’s and men’s tournaments.

Technically she will be a pro without a tour, although from a more pragmatic point of view, she will be a pro with many tours. Virtually every professional tournament in golf, for men or women, would love to have Wie in the field.

B.J. Wie, Michelle’s father and a professor at the University of Hawaii, recently addressed his daughter’s desire to play on both the women’s and men’s tours.

“Michelle will not bypass the LPGA,” he told The Associated Press. “She will never use the LPGA as a training ground. She will play continuously on the LPGA. At some time, she will try to get her PGA card through the seven maximum (sponsor) exemptions, or, if that doesn’t work out, go through qualifying. But we don’t know when that time will be.”

Meanwhile, Wie can play in international events, primarily in Asia but also in Europe. There is an advantage here: She can accept appearance fees, which can’t be offered by PGA and LPGA tournaments. Wie’s first appearance check may well come from the Casio World Open, Nov. 24-27, a men’s event on the Japan Golf Tour. It is played over the Thanksgiving holiday, meaning Wie – a junior at Punahou School in Honolulu – would miss only three or four days of school.

Waivers of the minimum-age requirement can be granted by the LPGA commissioner, although new commissioner Carolyn Bivens has given no indication of her inclinations in this matter. In recent years, only four players have applied for such waivers. Aree Song was granted a waiver two years ago; the applications of In-Bee Park and Carmen Bandea were declined earlier this year; and Morgan Pressel was granted a conditional waiver that allows her to enter the LPGA qualifying tournament at age 17.

Further pressure would mount on Bivens should Wie, as a professional, win an LPGA event before she turns 18. Typically, tournament winners earn full three-year exempt status on the LPGA. Wie still

would have to petition the commissioner to waive the age requirement for membership. If that permission were granted, Wie would receive high priority nonexempt status for the remainder of the calendar year and exempt status the following two seasons.

“It’s a tough situation,” said Tom Maletis, general chairman of two LPGA tournaments sponsored by Safeway. (Wie has played in both as an amateur.) “I think Carolyn is going to look at these situations maybe a little bit more openly than Ty (Votaw, the previous commissioner) did, although that’s just my personal impression.”

It is not known whether Wie will immediately petititon for LPGA membership when she turns pro. As a nonmember of the LPGA, Wie is limited to six sponsor exemptions per year. She also can play in the

U.S. Women’s Open and the Weetabix Women’s British Open, bringing her total to eight.

Without membership on the PGA Tour, she can play in seven tournaments. Add a handful of international events, and she has a full schedule.

If Wie is granted LPGA membership, her options become more limited. She can play in only two competing events (held at the same time as an LPGA tournament) during the year. If she did this more than twice, she would be subject to a “major” fine by the LPGA (the amount is not specified).

“It is considered a major penalty in terms of our regulations,” said Barb Trammell, LPGA vice president of tournament operations. “We’ve never experienced anyone who has done that several times during the year. I suppose, if we felt the policy was being abused blatantly, we might take more serious action.”

The policy is intended to protect the quality of the fields at LPGA tournaments. Players must apply for

a release at least 30 days before the LPGA competition.

However, as an LPGA member, Wie could play in unlimited tournaments that do not go against LPGA events. (In 2005, there were 11 PGA Tour tournaments on LPGA open dates. Wie played on sponsor exemptions at the Sony Open, which was one of the 11 non-conflicting events, and the John Deere Classic, for which, as an LPGA member, she would have needed a release from playing in the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.)

Next year, there are three professional events in Hawaii in January and February – the PGA Tour’s Sony Open and the LPGA’s SBS Open and Fields Open - and it’s not a stretch to think Wie will play in all three.

– Jay Coffin contributed

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