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LeAnna Wicks might just be the next lightning rod for LPGA

By Michael Patrick Shiels, Contributor

BRIGHTON, Mich. - Professional golf's newest female player LeAnna Wicks might well be dubbed "LeAnna Looks." The nickname would fit Wicks to a half-T. At 23, she is heading into her first full competitive season of professional golf and giving new meaning to the term "glamour shot."

When a 23-year-old Jan Stephenson hit the LPGA Tour in 1974 and became rookie of the year, she blew away all stereotypes about the female athlete being "butch." Stephenson eventually won more than 20 tournaments worldwide and proved that a woman could compete in sports and yet retain a naturally feminine appearance. She even posed in glamorous and provocative magazine photos that created a great deal of attention for women's golf and the LPGA. Just as a dashing and manly Arnold Palmer had proven to men that golf was not a "sissy sport," Stephenson's beauty and attractive appeal made her an example of the modern sportswoman.

"I think that the women on the LPGA Tour should try to look their best. Just because you are out there competing, there is no reason, in my opinion, not to look your best," said Wicks. What does she think about being cast in the cleat-steps of a golf sex symbol like Stephenson or tennis favorite Anna Kournikova?

"I think that she (Kournikova) is a talented athlete and has worked hard for what she's accomplished in the game of tennis. She was able to use her appearance and talent to go outside the sports world and delve into the everyday world, where people outside of the tennis industry recognized her. This happens all the time in other sports with men, in the NFL, NHL, and even the PGA Tour," said Wicks. "Yet, I believe because she is a woman and considered to have a sex appeal, and because she has not won a tennis 'major,' she is criticized as a tennis player. I think she is a talented athlete and has a great marketing appeal, and I do not see why she shouldn't capitalize on that."

Wicks began her athletic experience in a more traditional "pretty girl" role.

"I was a cheerleader in middle school and during my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I enjoyed cheerleading, but I knew I wanted to get a golf scholarship so I chose to make golf my sole sport," said Wicks.

As a result, Wicks graduated from the University of Michigan in May with some valuable golf experience under her fashionable leather belt. She tied a school scoring record, won the Lady Hawkeye Invitational, was Big Ten player of the week, finished runner-up in the 2002 Big Ten Conference Championship, and, in 2001, was the Ashworth Midwest Collegiate Tour's Player of the Year. At Brighton High School, Wicks set school scoring records and was three-times her team's Most Valuable Player.

The first thing one notices about Wicks is that she's not afraid to back-up her stylish golf game with stylish apparel such as fuchsia golf tanks, visors, hot pink lipstick and studded belts.

"My favorite colors to wear would be bright pink, red, and navy blue with white," said Wicks, who wears her strawberry blonde hair up during competition. "I have my favorite clothing brands, one of which is Tommy Hilfiger. Their golf clothes are cute and stylish, plus I like the bright, vivid colors."

Wicks said she practices eight to nine hours per-day almost every day.

"I can never really keep my hands in good shape. The wear and tear is tough. I notice little cracks and roughness all the time. I wear a glove, but I don't like to wear band-aids or tape unless I have to," she said. "I have womanly fingernails. They aren't very long, but long enough to remain 'girly.' Plus, I always keep them painted in some shade of red or pink."

She professes her admiration for Nancy Lopez, citing her personality and charisma off of the golf course, and hopes to someday follow Lopez into the LPGA Hall of Fame. First things first, though. Wicks knows that her looks alone will not make her a golf star.

"I anticipate a great deal of hard work. Everything I have accomplished in golf and in life has come from putting in hours of hard work and perseverance. I believe that in order to be successful, you have to be willing to put in the work that is required in order to reach your goals. You also have to learn how to deal with the highs, as well as the lows. You have to constantly be striving for improvement and never settling for anything less than your best."

Wicks made the 36-hole cut at each of the LPGA Tour's two qualifying events last fall, but failed to reach the final stage of LPGA Qualifying for the 2004 season. She did, however, qualify to compete on The Future's Tour - the LPGA's developmental tour. The top-five money earners at the end of the Future's Tour season get promoted to the LPGA. Wicks plans to attempt to qualify for LPGA events too, including the U.S. Open and the Jamie Farr Classic in Toledo.

Wicks also knows it will cost thousands of dollars for her to be a force on the Futures Tour, which begins in March. The entry fee into each event is $375, but just as on any tour, the players are responsible for their own travel, accommodations, and, yes, apparel.

But, when you wear it as well as "LeAnna Looks," can an endorsement deal be far behind?

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