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HONOLULU, Hawaii, Oct 5 (AFP) - Michelle Wie announced here Wednesday that she has joined the professional golf ranks, the Korean-American schoolgirl grabbing endorsement riches six days shy of her 16th birthday.
"I'm a pro as of today," Wie said. "From the first time I grabbed a golf club, I knew I loved it. Twelve years later, I'm turning pro and I'm so excited."
Deals with Nike and Sony will bring Wie nearly 10 million dollars, making her the wealthiest woman in golf and trailing only tennis stars Maria Sharapova of Russia and Serena Williams, a fellow American, in endorsement income.
Wie made her morning announcement - the most eagerly awaited pro golf newcomer announcement since Tiger Woods made his jump from the amateur ranks in 1996 - in her hometown before catching a ride to high school.
The junior is old enough to drive a golf ball for big money but not yet old enough to drive a car. "My first priority is school," Wie said.
Wie plans to make her pro debut at the LPGA Samsung World Championship on October 13-16 at Palm Desert, California, and was also set to play against men at the Casio World Open on the Japan PGA Tour next month in Kochi, Japan.
With long-driving ability to compete against male pros, Wie has failed to make the cut in five men's events. But she finished second to Sweden's Annika Sorenstam at the 2005 LPGA Championship and was third at the US Women's Open.
"I'm going to work harder to become the best golfer in the world," Wie said.
Previous appearances by Wie at men's events have raised attendance and television ratings as the prodigy goes for her ultimate goal of being the first woman to play at the Masters, the first major men's tournament of every year.
Wie must wait another two years to meet the LPGA minimum age requirement but she has not missed an LPGA cut in any event she has played over the past two years and is likely to play eight LPGA events next year on sponsor exemptions.
Wie, whose parents came from South Korea to Hawaii in the 1980s, is learning Japanese and Chinese languages and is expected to be a huge star in Asia as well as the United States.
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