LPGA needs Michelle Wie now more than ever

This weekend’s season-ending ADT Championship at Trump National in West Palm Beach, Fla., has an elegiac tone with the departure of Annika Sorenstam, the tournament sponsor and perhaps the entire tournament.
Sorenstam has been that rare combination of champion and role model, the LPGA’s Tiger, and she deserves her curtain calls this weekend, even if her “retirement” is starting to sound like Brett Favre’s. Hand-wringing over the LPGA’s outlook for 2009 is understandable, too; the tour will be down three tournaments next year, and $4 million to $5 million in prize money.
However, we won’t get a real picture of the LPGA’s future for another two weeks: that’s when Michelle Wie competes in the final round of Q-School for a spot on the 2009 LPGA Tour.
Professional sports are star-driven. As the old saying goes, nobody ever went to a golf tournament to watch a tour commissioner. Losing Annika Sorenstam hurts the LPGA because she is one of the game’s few true stars — defined as someone who could be the answer to a crossword puzzle clue or a $400 question on Jeopardy! During her career, she has grabbed the imagination of the broader universe of sports fans, not just golf fans.  The dearth of stars with such wide appeal on the LPGA Tour was no doubt behind the “Learn English” debacle this summer.
Here’s the main problem: Wie is potentially the biggest star in the women’s game. She has a Nike deal that would impress LeBron James and a boldface name that you see on David Letterman and in People magazine. The only thing she doesn’t have is an LPGA Tour card for 2009.
To her credit, she won’t rely on sponsors' exemptions anymore and made it through the first round of Q-School in October. The final round is Dec. 3-7. So, no matter what happens this weekend at the ADT Championship, we won’t know what’s in store for the LPGA next year until we know if Wie qualifies. 

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by Kevin Cunningham