It's a big day for Michelle Wie today. It's her 18th birthday as well as her second anniversary from the day she announced she was turning pro. But things are not too rosy for the 6-foot-1 Korean American from Hawaii.
Since turning pro she hasn't won any of the 16 LPGA tournaments and she still hasn't made a PGA Tour cut. Too lofty expectations? Perhaps. But when you sign endorsement deals that pay you annually in the $20 million range -- Nike, Sonyand Omega--you have to be open to criticism.
For their part, Sony is still using her--she's expected to be in advertising this fall. But we can't help notice how she's getting fewer new outfits from Nike , which signed her to a five-year deal, but it's really a three-year deal with a two-year Nike option. Sources tell me that there are some within Nike who are questioning if Wie's deal should be severed next year, or at least have the fees reduced.
I sat down with one of the world's foremost experts on Wie, ESPN The Magazine's Eric Adelson, who has been covering Wie since she was 10 and is writing a book on her scheduled to be published next year.
Darren: Why was Michelle Wie such a big deal when she announced she was turning pro two years ago?
Eric: Two years ago, she was regarded as somebody who could change the sports landscape and even change society. She was a woman, she was Asian-American, she was young and she could play with and compete with and even beat men and that's something that we really never saw before in the history of sports.
Darren: What did you think about the fact that when she announced she was turning pro, she had Nike and Sony by her side.
Eric: Usually the achievement comes before the endorsement. In this case, the endorsement came before the great achievement because the thought was she was a sure thing and by the time she actually achieved and beat men, she would be way too expensive for people to even to afford. So the thought was get in now and ride the wave, which is really what they did with Tiger Woods because they bought Tiger right at the beginning of his career and Tiger wound up being a bargain and Michelle Wie would have been a bargain too had she won.
Darren: Why are we at this point now?
Eric: We're at this point now because the great thing about Michelle Wie was that she could do anything at age 15. But she kept feeling like she could do anything at age 16 and 17, even when it was apparent that she was not quite there yet and that was a reality that nobody in the Wie camp wanted to embrace.
Darren: Tom Lehman called her "Secretariat" when she turned pro and many compared her to Tiger. She's obviously had her share of injuries but is there anything shocking about the fact that she hasn't won?
Eric: It's shocking in a sense that millions of dollars have been invested and she hasn't won. She was really that good and she really did have enough talent to at least compete on the PGA Tour -- maybe not win, but occasionally make a cut.
Darren: Is there anything that she can't regain from what she lost over the last two years?
Eric: I think one thing is lost forever and that is the innocence of her youth. She was a little girl who could compete with men and now she's 18 and she won't be a little girl again.
Darren: I'm not saying it's over for her, but there's a lot of pressure on her. Are people rooting for her to succeed or fail?
Eric: Well, now you have the potential for a comeback story, which everybody in America likes and if she can regain her focus and regain her game then you have a situation where you might have a happy ending. I think there's a chance that not only can people embrace her again but she could do really really special things because again she is only 18 and if she is able to compete with men that still really hasn't been done in any sport. So if she can do that even at age 25, then you have not only a special story historically, but you have a special story sympathetically.
Darren: There's certainly some pressure on her. Where is that coming from?
Eric: So much money is riding on her and so far she hasn't really earned it. That is the weight that is on her now that she knows that so many people are disappointed in her. She sees the galleries thinning and she knows that a lot of people that are skeptical of her to this point are right.
Darren: Why are people so confused by her and how much time do we have before we say, "It's time to give up?"
Eric: One more season of this not only of the failure to achieve, but also the failure to give the world an understanding of why the achievement hasn't come. One more year and people are really going to get tired of it.
Darren: She's had some tough moments--the disqualification, the withdrawals, the injuries-- why does she seem so easy to bash?
Eric: I think some of this was self inflicted because she wasn't open to the questions, she wasn't open to mistakes and fixing them. I think a lot of people wanted to grow with her and learn with her and she didn't let a lot of people do that and I think, in a way, if she had she would be successful even in light of the failure.
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