The million-dollar smile

HONOLULU — There was no Tigeresque “Hello, world” moment.

No, Michelle Wie strode into a crowded conference room with high heels and high hopes and said what everyone already knew.

“I’m finally happy to say I’m a pro starting today,” said Wie, who turns 16 in six days. “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.”

Wie has signed endorsement deals with Nike and Sony said to be worth $10 million a year. Her first act as a professional was to give some of it back.

She pledged $500,000 to the U.S. Golf Hurricane Relief Fund, set up by the major golf organizations.

Wie has been competing against the best players since she was in the seventh grade. The only difference now is that she’ll be competing with them on their level — as a pro.

Already she’s dealing with the expectations that come with celebrity.

“I know I have to win. That’s my priority right now,” she said, sitting in her hotel suite overlooking the blue surf. “Everyone expects me to do better and work harder, and I’m going to try my best.”

This wasn’t quite like Tiger Woods’ “Hello, world” greeting in 1996, when he turned pro at age 20, having won six consecutive USGA amateur titles. But like Woods on the men’s tour, the 6-foot Wie gives women’s professional golf a prodigy of its own.

Wie made her announcement at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel, next to the 10th fairway at Waialae Country Club where, at age 14, she shot 68 in the Sony Open, the lowest score ever by a female competing on the men’s tour.

Lest anyone think she was skipping class, Wie planned to join her junior class at the private Punahou School in time for “Japanese or drawing,” depending when she got there.

She was an hour late to a quick demonstration at Waialae, where she hit a half-dozen tee shots, borrowed a digital camera from her father and took her own photo of some 25 reporters and executives watching her every move.

“It’s a strange feeling,” said her father, B.J. Wie. “When I was bringing her downstairs, it felt like a wedding. Becoming a professional means she will have more responsibility. She has to be able to handle much higher expectations. She’ll have extra pressure.”

But he believes his daughter is up to the challenge, as always.

Still six days away from being able to get her driver’s license, Wie will make her professional debut next week on the LPGA Tour at the Samsung World Championship, an 18-player field at Bighorn Golf Club in the California desert. She also will play in the Casio World Open in Japan the week of Thanksgiving, her sixth time competing against men.

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