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Don't put the blame on Michelle Wie for being a good capitalist

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Michelle WieAll those who resent Michelle Wie's fame and instant fortune might want to read "American Capitalism" by John Kenneth Galbraith.

I doubt the just-turned-16 Wie has read it - the book isn't exactly mandatory reading in high school - but she is the embodiment of the economic system that has made America the world's greatest superpower.

If you resent the way Wie, overnight, became the most financially successful female golf professional in the world without playing a single professional tournament, much less winning one, it may be because you're not yet able to appreciate the way she has manipulated the system.

There is certainly nothing illegal or unethical about the way Wie has arrived at this point - signing endorsement deals worth up to $10 million a year on her 16th birthday, about $3 million more than that earned by Annika Sorenstam, who has won nine majors and a career Grand Slam.

It's a classic case of exploiting the media, unwittingly or not. Basically, Wie and her father, B.J., said to heck with the amateur route, the traditional, honorable and sometimes excruciatingly slow way young golfers make their way up to the pros.

She started getting sponsor exemptions when she was only 13 and she has followed that trend, preferring to play against the pros rather than her fellow amateurs. Last year she got an exemption to the U.S. Women's Open, as well as the LPGA Championship, making her the first amateur to play that tournament.

But it's her sponsor exemptions with the men that have captured the public interest and made her a multi-millionaire icon before she can even drive a car. She's followed the money and it's paid off big.

In capitalism, the numbers tell all. Here are a couple of figures: TV ratings increased 54 percent at the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic when Wie played. At the Samsung World Championships, site of her professional debut, four times as many media credentials were issued compared to last year.

Television ratings and the money they engender drive golf as they do so many other things in an entertainment-obsessed society. And when a woman dares compete against men, it's called the Big Story.

Even though she's too young to join the LPGA, she will play in as many as eight LPGA events due to sponsor exemptions and, more importantly for her pocketbook, will accept as many as seven exemptions on the PGA Tour.

Wie thinks big and, in a capitalist society, that can reap humongous financial rewards. If we want to take this notion a little further, think of the "trickle-down" effect. Think how much more money the John Deere tournament and its advertisers made than if Wie hadn't been there. You think Samsung is quibbling now about the thoroughly untraditional route Wie has taken?

John Kenneth GalbraithThe business suits are all over it. LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens had a little chat with those she governs, telling her sullen LPGA players that business is business and that Wie's financial coup and its attendant publicity will only put some money in their own paltry purses.

If we want to take it still further, look at it this way. Inevitably, in a capitalist society, there's a wide schism between the haves and the have-nots. The rich and the poor. Wie is at the top and all those resentful pros who have been laboring on the LPGA Tour for years making a fraction of what Wie made in a single day are at the bottom.

It's little wonder they snipe and gripe. Bivens is only trying to give her charges a little fatherly, Ronald Reagan-esque advice - hey, some that will trickle down to you. Don't worry. Be happy.

Would there be as much hoopla and money being thrown around if Wie had followed the traditional amateur route and not gone up against the men? Well, don't forget that Tiger Woods had a brilliant amateur career and he signed on the dotted line for around $40 million when he turned pro. Still, if Wie had gone the same route, I doubt she would have gotten $10 million and all those cool gadgets from Sony.

Even so, the next question may be: Is it all fair? Well, yes it is, if you accept capitalism as the legitimate, economic engine that drives the American juggernaut. But you also have to accept that which goes along with it: resentment, envy, jealousy and financial disparity.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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