- Tim Rosaforte
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They were sitting in a golf cart parked in the garage of a gated community in Boca Raton, Fla., this 17-year-old high school senior and her 71-year-old grandfather, peering into the screen of a Palm Treo. Just back from a late-afternoon practice session, Morgan Pressel was trying, impatiently, to teach Herb Krickstein how to send an e-mail on her new communications toy. The tutorial wasn't working.
"I can't type," said Herb.
"You're hopeless," said Morgan, wielding a stylus and tapping on the screen.
In so many ways, Pressel resembles any other multitasking teenager: sending an instant message, furiously working the keys of her computer and downloading music onto two iPods all at the same time, under the watchful eyes of "American Idol" heartthrob Clay Aiken and rock group Green Day, whose posters adorn her bedroom walls. But she's the first to tell you -- once you've earned her trust -- that, for her, being a kid meant growing up in a hurry. "There is no best part about being a teenager," she says. "There's so much drama."
If Michelle Wie's life is a fairy tale, Pressel's is a WB show. Morgan's mom died when she was 15. She had a falling out with her father and moved in with her grandparents. She is a Jewish girl in an Episcopal school who met her boyfriend in Bible class. And let's not forget: She's one of the hot new personalities in professional sports, an "It Kid" in the making, with a schedule full of photo shoots and a date with history. "Everybody moves on," she says. "I'm ready to move on."
One day she was 12, all braces and pigtails, qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open. The next day she was 17, in the last semester of her senior year at St. Andrew's School in Boca Raton, trying to decide between a Land Rover, BMW and Mercedes Benz. Instead of playing collegiate golf at Duke next fall, she turned professional last November, signed with IMG, got through Q school and successfully lobbied the LPGA to allow her full playing status in 2006, starting Thursday at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Oahu, Hawaii. To celebrate her financial independence, she graduated from two cell phones to the Treo that includes a Bluetooth for her ear and so many bells and whistles that not even a gadget queen such as herself can figure them out.
"Smile," she says, putting the camera phone inches from your face. She takes the picture, starts laughing, but won't show you the image. It goes into a file, somewhere in the Treo. She sits back down at her command post in the loft of her home and revolves around in her chair, mind spinning, a picture of her boyfriend on her screen savers.
This is a girl who has two monitors hooked up to her computer. "One for IMs, one for e-mails," she says, flashing the cursor between screens. There are 119 people on her buddy list, but most of the messages go to a freshman at the University of Florida named David Hedlund. After 15 months of dating, he knows that talking to her on a cell phone usually means getting only one-third of her attention. "Two screens fit her personality because she's always doing more than one thing," says Hedlund, a prelaw student who played basketball at St. Andrews. "I don't think anybody can have a conversation, do their homework and listen to music [at the same time] as well as she does."
When you go out to play nine holes with her, she puts her bag on the driver's side and says, "I have to be in control." Yet it's definitely not all about her in conversations, unlike many teenagers. After playing a round with her at Sea Island in Georgia, Davis Love III told strength coach Randy Myers that Pressel was, "as mature as any player he'd ever seen in terms of handling herself and how she responds to people."
As a golfer, think of Dottie Pepper's attitude combined with Annika Sorenstam's ability to win. "You could see it in her eyes, how much kill factor she has in her," says Bob Ford, the head professional at Seminole GC, after Pressel's first round at his club. "Some of the shots she hit were outstanding." Her only weakness is that she's not long enough to play on the PGA Tour, but she's not trying to be Wie. Her sights are on Sorenstam's No. 1 ranking and, one day, a place next to her in the Hall of Fame. Pressel's decision to turn pro was made after a year in which she won the U.S. Women's Amateur, finished T-2 at the U.S. Women's Open, had one other LPGA top-five and would have earned more than $400,000, had she been collecting checks.
Among those who questioned the move was Pepper, her mentor and alter ego. "Personally, I wish she would take it slower," Pepper says. "I have yet to see a kid not benefit from a year of college." After winning 11 times in her last two years of AJGA golf, and earning a third straight Florida high school title, Pressel didn't see the need to beat the same players again. When asked whether she thought college was underrated or overrated, she didn't hesitate in responding. "Depends on what you want to do," she said.
Pressel has a strong grip, and although her swing is not long and flowing like Wie's, it's evolving and has proven to be effective under pressure. She picked up 7 yards of carry on her last visit to Callaway Golf headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., but could still use another 10 to 15 paces on her tee ball. Instructor Martin Hall has been working with her for almost a decade and doesn't want to make any radical changes based on what he sees in her ball flight. As long as she keeps hitting tight draws and knocking down flags, Pressel will keep making birdies -- and that's what Hall wants. "My job is to help her develop a golf swing that makes the ball go where it's supposed to go," Hall says. "She used to take it inside and go across the line. It was not textbook, but it's gotten better. I know from the work Bob Toski did with Tom Kite, you don't want to sacrifice the ability to play to give her a great-looking golf swing."
Sorenstam subscribes to "Vision 54," the goal of birdieing every hole. Pressel's e-mail address includes the number 54 for the same reason. In last year's U.S. Women's Amateur, she was 36 under in 142 holes of play, including a hole-out for eagle on the 10th hole of her 3-and-1 semifinal victory over Angela Park. She considers that momentum-turning wedge, and the drive she hit six weeks earlier on the 72nd hole of the Women's Open, the two best shots of her career. Poised to capitalize on that drive at Cherry Hills, she was jolted when Birdie Kim holed out from a greenside bunker by the 18th green for only the fourth birdie on the hole all week. Just like that, Pressel faced the daunting task of needing a birdie to tie.
The feisty teen's head-in-hands reaction to Kim's miracle shot drew both criticism and praise. "I didn't see a spoiled kid in the fairway," says Nick Raffaele, director of tour operations for Callaway Golf. "What I saw was a player who didn't know she wasn't supposed to be in the position to win the U.S. Women's Open at 17. When that bunker shot went in, it wasn't her being snotty. It pissed her off. She was saying [Kim] took my destiny out of my control. It was something I [admired]."
That she nearly became the youngest winner of a major championship in history, while living the life of a character straight out of a prime-time soap opera, is a testament to her mental strength. "Obviously, she's been through a lot and she's still going through a lot," says Hedlund. "To be able to balance it with everything she does -- schoolwork, golf, friends -- that's unbelievable."
Some of that DNA was passed down from her mother Kathy, one of four nationally ranked tennis players raised by Herb Krickstein. Aaron Krickstein, once No. 6 in the world, became the most famous, but Kathy won the Big Ten championship in 1978 while playing for Michigan and was famous for her tenaciousness. "[Kathy] disliked losing to the point of losing her temper," recalls Herb. "In fact, I had to talk to her about it."
The baby photos of Kathy and Morgan are almost identical and are hung next to each other in Herb Krickstein's home. "Morgan has the same emotional makeup as her mom," Herb said. "She tends to be emotional, she tears up a lot. She'll do that her entire life."
In 2001, the same year Morgan qualified for the U.S. Open as a 12-year-old, Kathy was already in her second year of battling breast cancer. She died two years later, at age 43, leaving behind Morgan, sister Madison, brother Mitchell and her husband, Mike.
A significant consequence of Kathy's death was the estrangement that developed between Morgan and her father. Mike Pressel blames the mounting stress and Kathy's eventual death as the cause for the split, but Herb cites a clash of personalities. Needing her space, Morgan moved in with Herb and his wife, Evelyn. "At the time, it just wasn't a good situation and things weren't working out," says Morgan, swiveling around uncomfortably in her chair. "It's been great for my golf game to be with my grandfather every afternoon, so in that sense, it's been a great thing. There's not much more to say."
Mike still sells real estate and is busy supporting the junior golf careers of Madison, 14, and Mitchell, 12. Morgan stays close to her younger sister and brother, answering the phone with a "yo," when they call. She recently gave Madison a set of hand-me-down Callaway irons. "I try to help them as much as I can," she says. "It's been tough on them too. I think they're handling it well." Ask Mike Pressel to describe the current state of his relationship with Morgan and he says, "It's cordial. Would I like it to be better? Yes."
Truthfully, even if Kathy hadn't died, Morgan might be living with her grandfather anyway. Kathy entrusted Morgan's development to Herb -- a retired physician and pathologist -- when the girl was 8. That's when they started driving an hour north on the Florida Turnpike, first to see Hall for lessons at Ibis in West Palm Beach, and later for sessions with Myers, then based at PGA National.
Since then, Herb has estimated he has spent $300,000 to $400,000 and countless hours supporting Pressel's junior career. She calls him "Papa." His nickname for her is "Miss Never A Doubt." Herb has been a near-constant shadow in all of her rounds, both competitive and practice, reminding Morgan of what Hall said at the last lesson, trying to get her to focus -- which can be a challenge. "She's generally in a hurry to do everything," he says. "That's just her personality."
Pressel certainly speaks her mind. She accused the press of political correctness for not criticizing Wie after the Hawaiian shot 82 in the final round of the 2005 U.S. Women's Open. She wasn't happy with LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens for not initially granting her a waiver from the age limit if she earned her tour card. Through a better understanding of the media and the advice of her management team, Pressel has toned down her shots at Wie.
"I don't know how much of what she's doing is helping her," says Pressel. "We'll see."
Their only conversation was during a rain delay at a U.S. Girls' Junior a few years back, but they'll be Solheim Cup partners someday and, in truth, Pressel is not as bitter about Wie signing for $10 million with Nike and Sony as some have speculated. "I don't think Michelle is overrated at all," Pressel says. "I think she's going to be tremendous for the tour when she plays the tour."
But Pressel clearly has more respect for Paula Creamer, who went the same route through the AJGA and amateur golf before winning twice on the LPGA Tour and capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2005. "I've played a lot of golf with Paula." Pressel says. "I think she's a great player who has proven herself this year. It's great to see because I've played with her so long."
On this afternoon late last month, Pressel is three weeks from traveling to Hawaii for her professional debut. She has just returned from two days of equipment testing in California. In her pocket are two HX Tour balls and a Titleist Pro V1, the brand she used before signing with Callaway. Each ball has a circle drawn around the circumference in different colors. She wants to know which ball travels farther.
The 17th at St. Andrews CC is not a driver hole, but Pressel pulls that club before Herb arrives at the tee -- partly because she wants to hit driver, partly because she wants to tweak her grandfather. "You don't hit driver here, you know that," Herb says when he gets to the tee, worried that she is adopting a bad habit.
"Why not?" she says.
The next sound is titanium hitting golf ball and a bullet that carries the water hazard and lands near the 100-yard marker. She hits two more drives on the same line and drives up to find three balls in the fairway.
"Smart aleck," says Herb.
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.
Fiery Morgan Pressel graduates to the big leagues after an adolescence that was anything but child's play, reports Tim Rosaforte.