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Published: Sunday, 7/3/2005

Teen spirit: Top-ranked amateur Morgan Pressel brings enthusiastic approach to the Jamie Farr Classic

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The country's top-ranked amateur, Morgan Pressel, has finished in the top 25 in four LPGA events so far this year. The country's top-ranked amateur, Morgan Pressel, has finished in the top 25 in four LPGA events so far this year.
CHRIS CARLSON / AP Enlarge

First comes the pleading. "Sit," Morgan Pressel yells to her ball, begging it to land where it's told. If it doesn't obey and rolls elsewhere, her putter or her knee gets slapped.

Then, more reaction. Cheers, arm pumps, claps. Groans, head shakes, tears. All are par for a round of golf with Morgan Pressel.

Some say the emotion in Pressel's play, showcased on a national stage last weekend at the U.S. Women's Open, is human and refreshing. Others think it's juvenile, which is understandable because Pressel is a 17-year-old.

No one can dispute that her method works.

Pressel, the country's top-ranked amateur, has finished in the top 25 in the four LPGA events she's played in this year. The finish most won't forget soon was her tie for second place at the Open. After leading, faltering, then crying on the first day, Pressel was strong the next three days. She might have won last Sunday if not for Birdie Kim's miraculous birdie on the 18th hole.

Her next chance to liven up the tour is at the Jamie Farr Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club this week. Pressel received one of two sponsor exemptions into the tournament.

"I'm going to have a lot of confidence coming in," Pressel said.

Riding home from the airport Monday to her home in Boca Raton, Fla., Pressel's tone matches her words, revealing another of her trademarks.

Morgan Pressel gets a kiss from her grandmother, Evelyn Krickstein, after tying for second at the U.S. Women's Open. Morgan Pressel gets a kiss from her grandmother, Evelyn Krickstein, after tying for second at the U.S. Women's Open.
CHRIS CARLSON / AP Enlarge

"The week wasn't necessarily a surprise to me," Pressel said. "Maybe it was to other people."

Pressel's grandfather and manager, Herb Krickstein, is driving. He's not stunned at what he just saw, either.

Pressel might be young, but this was her third Open. She qualified for her first so early, at age 12, the USGA made a rule to deter it from happening again.

Her game is quite different from that other high school phenom, Michelle Wie.

Pressel doesn't drive the ball as far as Wie, but hits nearly 85 percent of fairways and often gets ahead with her precise putting.

"Her game has really come around in the last year," Krickstein said. "She very rarely has a bad tournament. With the results she's had, confidence creates confidence. She now feels she can go out there and compete."

Krickstein has lived through a teen athlete's steady rise to stardom before. His son, Aaron, Pressel's uncle, at age 16 was the youngest singles champion on the ATP tour. It all started with his whirlwind tour through the 1983 U.S. Open tennis championships, where he pulled off several upsets. Had Pressel won last Sunday, she would have been the youngest to win the major and the first amateur in 38 years.

"It's still nerve-wracking, but I'm a lot older, I'm used to it," Krickstein said.

Indeed, Pressel's competitiveness might stem from a family background of athletic success. Krickstein, who lived in Detroit for 35 years, was once offered a chance to try out for the Tigers. Morgan's mother, Kathy, was a Big Ten tennis champion at the University of Michigan in 1978.

Kathy Pressel died of breast cancer in September, 2003, and Pressel decided to move in with her grandparents. Her father, brother, and sister live 10 minutes away. Krickstein and Morgan's grandmother, Evelyn, were Pressel's only family at the Open because her sister, Madison, 13, was playing in a junior tournament in Florida.

Krickstein can see the influence his daughter has had on Morgan. They're the same type of player, he says, affected, but not bothered, by their every move.

"She has a very big heart out there," he said. "It was something I've seen many times."

There isn't much more for Pressel to accomplish at the amateur level. She has won nine American Junior Golf Association tournaments; four in 2004. Two more teen troubles, new pros Paula Creamer and Brittany Lang, will be playing in the Farr along with Pressel. Their decisions might be telling to Pressel's future.

Creamer turned pro without attending college, and Lang turned pro the day after the Open with one year of college at Duke behind her. Pressel has said she'll play at Duke, but the Open finish has her and her family reconsidering that decision.

"I would be very surprised if she went to college," Aaron Krickstein told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel this week.

Pressel liked the Open - the course, the way she was treated as a participant, the competition. She knows she's playing well, and that a win would have shaken up her sport.

"I could have been all over everything," Pressel said.

Just after Pressel's chance to make history disappeared, the most famous face in the game assured Pressel she'll have it soon enough. As Pressel walked toward the clubhouse to sign her card last Sunday, she saw Annika Sorenstam waiting for her. Sorenstam hugged her and told her, "You are going to have many more times, so keep your head up," Pressel said.

"She's so amazing, I look up to her so much," Pressel said.

Pressel and Sorenstam played a practice round together at the Chick-Fil-A Championship in Atlanta in May.

"I'm impressed with her," Sorenstam told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after their round. "I like her attitude. She's fiery, she's fun, she's energetic."

When Pressel visited her grandparents growing up she got to know several courses in Michigan. She said she is excited to be so close to her "second home."

"Toledo is a great event, it was an exciting one to get," Pressel said. "People say I'll shoot my game well there."

And rest assured, she's not changing her style, no matter what anyone says.

"Some people have told me, 'Don't ever lose that,' " Pressel said. "Other people don't think it's a good idea. I try and control my emotions, I try and keep it in, but I'm not so good at it."

Hey, whatever works.

Contact Maureen Fulton at: mfulton@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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