Thursday, October 13, 2005

Michelle Wie to Make Professional Debut at the Samsung World Championship 

PALM DESERT, Calif. Oct 13, 2005 — Get ready for the "Michelle Wie Show" as the teen golfing prodigy makes her professional debut Thursday at the Samsung World Championship at Bighorn Golf Club.

She plays in the second-to-last group with Cristie Kerr, right in front of Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer.

Wie is thrust in the middle of the top three players on the LPGA Tour money list Sorenstam again closing in on $2 million, the 19-year-old Creamer having already set a record for rookies with over $1.3 million, Kerr right behind and still trying to get her due.

And yet, all the attention likely will be on a 16-year-old junior in high school.

The Samsung World Championship has attracted media from all over the world, and it has turned the LPGA Tour into Wie's personal showcase.

"It doesn't bother me," Sorenstam said. "I think it's great we're getting more attention. If I couldn't get the attention, I'm glad Michelle can get it. I'm just happy to be a part of it. I know what I've achieved. I know the records that I have set, and nobody can take those away."

Wie is hardly a newcomer, having played 24 times on the LPGA Tour alone since she was 12. She has made her last 16 cuts on the LPGA, and her three runner-up finishes this year include the LPGA Championship.

Expectations are entirely different now.

"It's a lot easier to play when you've got an 'a' by your name," said Juli Inkster, referring to how amateurs are denoted on the leaderboard. "She had pressure as an amateur, too. When you have to count everything, it can take a little different feeling."

Wie already has endorsements that are said to be worth $10 million a year, although some industry insiders think the numbers are slightly inflated. Either way, she makes more endorsement money than anyone, adding to the anticipation of how she will perform as a part-time pro.

Wie believes she is ready.

"I was practicing really hard playing for $5 incentives," Wie said. "My dad would give me $5 if I made a birdie putt, and stuff like that. But my stakes are going to be a lot higher right now, so I'm practicing really hard. I don't really see it as pressure, I see it as incentive to practice harder."

For now, no one can deny the talent and excitement surrounding her.

"Michelle is good for golf, just as Tiger (Woods) was good for golf," LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. "There are a lot of people who may not follow golf otherwise, but tune in when you've got Michelle or Tiger out there."

B.J. Wie has said his daughter won't challenge the LPGA requirement that members be 18 years old. And while he says her focus will initially be on the LPGA Tour, the ultimate dream is to get her PGA Tour card.

Wie is trying to add 10 percent to her length, so the distance she carries her tee shot increases from 260 yards to 285 yards, which the father believes will allow her to compete against the men.

For now, Wie has to prove herself against her own gender.

The Samsung World Championship has only 18 players and no cut, the field determined by major champions and top players from the money list. Wie was given an exemption, which knocked Inkster out of the field. Not only that, Wie has signed up Inkster's caddie, Greg Johnston.

Creamer often gets lost in the talk over the youth movement, but she's more focused on someday overtaking Sorenstam at No. 1 in women's golf.

"I guess it's every event that Michelle is at, there's an extra buzz," Creamer said. "I'm used to it now."

Sorenstam, secure in her achievement and fame, also doesn't seem troubled by the extra attention.

She was content to practice alone Tuesday afternoon, and it was a phenomenal display. Her caddie, Terry McNamara, stood 85 yards away to catch soft sand wedges with a baseball glove. He eventually moved back to about 150 yards when Sorenstam went with 8-iron, and on three consecutive shots, he stayed in the same spot.

Too bad no one was around to see it.

Wie and Woods took different paths on their way to professional golf. Woods didn't play on the PGA Tour until he was 16, and never played more than four tour events a year until he turned pro after a sterling amateur career and two years at Stanford. Wie qualified for her first LPGA Tour event at age 12, and was so hooked that she honed her game by competing against the best.

The similarities are their marketing appeal, and explosive power.

And both sought counsel from Ernie Els when deciding to turn pro.

Woods and Els retreated to the clubhouse after the '96 British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, where Woods grilled the South African star about life on the tour.

"We were sitting there talking, and I remember him saying he doesn't know what he wants to do, whether to turn pro or stay in school," Els once said. "I told him he was good enough to turn pro. He did, and the rest is history."

Wie was in Orlando, Fla., two months ago with swing coach David Leadbetter who also works with Els when they called the Big Easy to talk about her future. Wie and Els played practice rounds for two years at the Sony Open.

Els was traveling Wednesday, but his wife relayed the conversation in an e-mail.

"Ernie told her there was no need to wait, as he thought she was ready to turn pro," Liezl Els said. "He spoke mostly to Michelle, but also had a word with her dad, whom he told the same thing."

The rest is history?

That remains to be seen. The first step comes Thursday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

AFL: An autograph seeker's dream 

Celebrity Autographs And Celebrity Addresses

MESA, Ariz. -- As far as Thomas Poore is concerned, the Arizona Fall League should be called the Autograph Fall League.

"I love baseball," Poore said Monday before a game between the Mesa Solar Sox and Peoria Javelinas at HoHoKam Park. "I'm down here [in Arizona] because of baseball. I'm the only one down here from my family. They want me to come back to Ohio, but I say, 'No way.' The weather's great and baseball is year-round down here. The players are nice. It's fun meeting the new guys and learning who they are."

An Akron, Ohio, native, Poore has been going to AFL games since 1997.

"I've got thousands of autographs," Poore said. "They're from the Fall League and Spring Training. I've got 10 5,000-count boxes full of autographed cards. It's all for me, and whenever I decide to have a family, it will go to my son."

The Arizona Fall League kicked off its 14th season on Oct. 4, and it will run through Nov. 12. Games are played at Spring Training ballparks in Peoria, Surprise, Mesa, and Phoenix, and feature some of the top prospects of each Major League team. It's a lot easier to get Cubs outfielder Matt Murton's autograph at HoHoKam Park than at Wrigley Field, or get a chance to ask Yankees catching prospect David Parrish for a signature here than at Yankee Stadium.

There are three kinds of AFL fans -- family, scouts and autograph seekers. The players joke about it.

"I knew the type of people who would be here would be scouts, general managers, agents and autograph seekers," said Reds infielder Joey Votto, who plays for the Solar Sox. "I didn't expect to see 'Joe Everyday' fan. They have to work."

The AFL is a perfect setup for collectors. The crowds are small, it's direct access to the players and pretty laid back.

"I was here last year, and I saw it then," said Indians infielder Ryan Garko. "It's a lot of young prospects, and we're so accessible. If you collect autographs, it's the best scenario because there are no crowds and it's quiet."

It's so quiet, you can sit behind the home dugout and hear a conversation on the other side of the diamond. Because it's an intimate setting, the autograph seekers have to be polite.

"If someone says something, you know who said it," Garko said.

The AFL players may be young, but they are smart enough to recognize collectors who are getting autographs to sell.

"You know," Garko said. "If a guy has a page of 12 cards, you know [he's selling them]. A lot of guys, you get to know them. They like to trade with their buddies on the East Coast. A lot of guys just like to trade them, and it's their hobby. I've always tried to sign. You just respect the guys. If that's what they enjoy -- even if they're going to sell them -- it's something they enjoy and they're going to make the trip to the ballpark to do it, you've got to sign."

The collectors need to watch their timing. Cubs pitcher Angel Guzman was sitting in the stands behind home plate to chart the Mesa pitchers on Saturday night and was constantly interrupted by fans seeking his signature on a ball or a card.

"I know they want our autograph, but can't they wait until we're finished?" said Guzman, who had to put down the radar gun to handle the fans' requests. "I didn't know it would be this way."

After Saturday's game at HoHoKam Park, which is the Cubs' Spring Training headquarters, several people stayed late in the players' parking lot to add to their collection.

"Everybody wanted to go home, but at the same time, it was pretty impressive that those guys were sitting out there at 11:30, midnight, and still wanted people's autograph," said Giants outfielder Dan Ortmeier. "There's going to be a time when people won't want your autograph. It's always nice to have people out here."

For some of the AFL players, this is the first time they're wearing a Major League uniform. Signing is part of being a big leaguer.

"Seeing all these people up and down the lines asking for autographs, it's just like the big leagues," Ortmeier said. "I have been a little surprised [at the number of requests], but at the same time, it's nice. It puts people in the stands. They're very passionate about what they do. They've got a ton of cards and pictures. Sometimes it's cool to see that."

The coaches and managers are included, too. Von Joshua, who played in the big leagues for 10 years, was asked to sign a 1974 card of him from his days with the Dodgers. Someone showed up with 8-by-10 photographs of Joshua in his Giants uniform.

Poore, 34, has expanded his collection and is taking his own photos, which he then asks players to sign. He may trade signatures with his brother in Akron, but he keeps most of them. Poore has collected AFL alums like Nomar Garciaparra and Mike Piazza.

"I got Grady Sizemore -- that's one of my favorites," said Poore, a huge Indians fan.

You won't see any of Poore's souvenirs on eBay.

"I do it because I love the game," he said.

Lawsuit against Prior scheduled for trial 

NAPERVILLE -- A lawsuit alleging Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior broke a contract to sign autographs at a suburban store is headed to a civil trial.

Will County Circuit Court Judge Herman S. Hasse on Tuesday set a January bench trial to decide the suit, which alleges Prior left 45 minutes into his scheduled three-hour appearance at a collectibles store in August 2004.

The suit filed last year by Just Ducky Too gift shop in Naperville says Prior autographed only 196 of the 300 baseballs he was under contract to sign and disappointed hundreds of fans, including some crying kids. The shop claims Prior's actions damaged its reputation.

Prior said later that he had been misled about the event, saying he agreed to sign 300 autographs but not to participate in a "meet and greet."

John Schriver, an attorney representing Prior, did not immediately return a phone message left Wednesday.

The lawsuit also names Livingston, New Jersey-based Upper Class Collectibles LLC, alleging the company was paid for Prior-autographed collectibles that it did not deliver.

Upper Class Collectibles countersued the store in November 2004, accusing owners of violating the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices acts. A hearing on the countersuit is set for Nov. 8.

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