Michelle Wie West Was Ready to Retire. Then She Got Mad.


Wie West has sought out other athletes who fought for change, including Renee Powell, one of the first African-American members of the L.P.G.A., and tennis icon Billie Jean King, who described how her threat to boycott the U.S. Open in 1973 as the defending women’s champion spurred the tournament to become the first of the Grand Slam events to pay men and women equally for their victories. Wie West has compared notes with W.N.B.A. standout and players’ association president, Nneka Ogwumike, whose undergraduate years at Stanford overlapped with hers.

The conversations inspired Wie West to float the idea of forming an inter-sport council that could address the pay disparity and unequal resources between men’s and women’s sports.

In 2019, the last full season before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the playing calendar, 73 women’s players exceeded $50,000 in on-course earnings. That same season on the PGA Tour, the 73rd-highest earner made $1,553,149.

The golfer who wins this Sunday will take home $1 million, from $5.5 million, the largest purse on the tour. The winner of the men’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines this month will earn $2.25 million from a $12.5 million purse.

Recently Wie West was reminded by her father-in-law, Jerry West, who works for the Los Angeles Clippers as a consultant, that the big money in men’s sports didn’t materialize overnight.

West, the second overall pick in the 1960 draft, told her that he didn’t have an agent when he turned pro and for the duration of his first contract he held an off-season job in community relations for Great Western Savings to supplement his N.B.A. income.

“He told me the N.B.A. was not something that they considered a full-time profession,” said Wie West. Like king tides, the wave that will lift all paychecks requires a perfect storm of leadership, talent, exposure, performances, marketing — to be aligned.



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