2005: Wie’s first pro act is 500k donation to Katrina fund

By Jay A. Coffin

The worst-kept secret in sports was made public Oct. 5 when Michelle Wie formally announced she had turned professional.

The much-ballyhooed news conference in Honolulu turned out to be noteworthy only for the teenage prodigy’s announcement that $500,000 of her signing bonuses with Nike and Sony would be donated to the U.S. Golf Hurricane Relief Fund and for the embarrassing Freudian slip by Ross Berlin in his debut as Wie’s manager with the William Morris Agency.

“I’m finally happy to say I’m a pro starting today,” Wie said, wearing a pink Nike shirt and high heels that made the 6-foot teen appear even taller. “The first time I grabbed a golf club, I knew I’d do it for the rest of my life. Some 12 years later, I’m finally turning pro, and I’m so excited.”

During his introduction of Wie, Berlin waxed about his client’s “new journey,” her strong family ties and her potential as a golfer and role model. Noting the Wie family’s priorities, Berlin said: “Golf first – excuse me! – school first. . . .” Then, ironically, after the high-school junior completed all of her media obligations, she was too exhausted to go to school, her father B.J. Wie said, so she returned to her home.

As expected, Wie, who turned 16 Oct. 11, signed endorsement deals with Nike and Sony that industry sources have said will pay her as much as $10 million per year, making her the richest female golfer and third-highest paid woman in professional sports. Annika Sorenstam, who has won 63 times and nine majors, brings in about $6 million per year in endorsements. Only tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams reportedly earn more than Wie in endorsements. “It’s an exciting time,” Sorenstam said last week at the Longs Drugs Challenge. “I wish her all the best. She is talented, I think she will be a great asset to the tour and I look forward to seeing her out here and playing with us.”

Wie was to make her professional debut this week at the LPGA’s Samsung World Championship, and she plans to enter the Casio World Open in Japan the week of Thanksgiving, her sixth time competing against men. Juli Inkster’s former caddie, Greg Johnston, will be on Wie’s bag.

Wie is not expected to join the LPGA until she turns 18, but she’ll likely play as many as eight LPGA events each of the next two years. She also is likely to play several times on the PGA Tour and on men’s tours overseas, where she is able to accept appearance fees.

– James Achenbach contributed

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