— Though she's technically a rookie on the LPGA Tour, there's little doubt that Michelle Wie is one of the most recognizable faces in golf. Current media darlings Brittany Lincicome and Paula Creamer notwithstanding, Wie's name atop a leaderboard would no doubt draw a sizable television audience Sunday.
So with a weekend summit on how to appeal to fans — and their pocketbooks — in the face of a faltering economy having concluded Sunday at Kingsmill, does Wie feel any pressure to translate her status as the sport's marquee name into prosperity for the game?
"I don't really see myself as that, really," said Wie, who tees off Thursday in the first round of the Michelob Ultra Open. "I feel like I'm just one of the players out here. I'm just trying to do my best. We're all trying to become the No. 1 players out here. I'm just thankful that I have some fans and that they stuck with me through the hard times."
Those hard times — her supernova burst onto the golfing landscape as a 12-year-old qualifier for an LPGA event, followed by her failed attempt to make a cut on the PGA Tour and the unspoken ill will it created among her LPGA competitors — have been well-documented. They still also generate buzz, among those who cover the sport and those who follow it.
"She's definitely a story that's of interest," Hall of Famer and golf ambassador Nancy Lopez said. "That is the main topic a lot of times when people come up to and ask me what I'm doing on the tour. That's one of their No. 1 questions. … She's a superstar."
That label fits despite the fact that Wie never has won a tournament as a pro and has failed to make the cut in seven PGA Tour events while withdrawing from another. It also could ratchet up viewing verve should she be in contention on the weekend, as she was in the season-opening SBS Open at Turtle Bay, where she finished second.
"I think everybody's rooting for Michelle Wie now," Lopez said. "I think a lot of people kind of feel bad because she hasn't been able to win, and they're all wondering why, because she's got all that talent. She's faltered a little bit and it's hard to come back from that. I wish her well, because I think it would be a great thing for the LPGA for Michelle Wie to win."
Wie isn't focused that far ahead. She's just enjoying playing full-time after qualifying for this year's LPGA Tour, ending a nomadic tournament life.
"Before, there were only like six tournaments I could play in," Wie said. "Now I can pick and choose and see which ones fit my schedule and what I want to play in. I feel like it's my I-can-play-when-I-want card. It's great playing every week."
Wie finished tied for 10th in her last tournament, the Corona Championship on April 26, and is looking forward to testing her long-hitting game at Kingsmill, where she finished tied for 12th in 2004 before missing the cut last year.
With career LPGA stats dating back to 2002, it's easy to forget Wie is all of 19 now and, in essence, starting from scratch.
"Let's give her the chance to be the little girl that she really wasn't and let her come out here and play the type of golf I believe she can," Lopez said. "I'm rooting for her. I hope she wins. She deserves it."
A Wie win also could inject life into a tour that has lost two tournaments during the last two years.
"It wouldn't hurt," said World Golf Hall of Famer and golf commentator Judy Rankin. "First of all, people are going to be happy to see this phenomenal talent finally begin to reach her potential.
"Secondly, because she is so young, people are going to be happy to see her overcome the difficulties of the last few years. Thirdly, she's just so flat-out talented and good, that it's going to make competition on this tour so much keener, so everybody looks forward to that.
"And she's been this way since she was about 14. She bears the burden of having the most potential of anybody anyone has even seen at such a young age."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times