West Palm Beach, Fla.
Herb Krickstein stands on the practice range at Banyan Golf Club with one eye glued to his granddaughter, Morgan Pressel. A club member wanders over singing praises of Pressel’s “flawless” swing and mental maturity. • “You know,” he tells Krickstein, “my grandson is somewhat of a tennis prodigy.” • Though doting grandparents use the term liberally, Krickstein knows a thing or two about prodigies. • They run in the family.
A retired pathologist, Krickstein is raising his second wonder child in as many sports. The first was his son, Aaron Krickstein, who still holds the record of youngest player to win an ATP Tour singles title at 16 years, 2 months. The tennis hotshot rose to No. 6 in the world before injuries slowed his career.
Aaron Krickstein played a supporting role when Pressel, 16, rocked the golf world in 2001 by writing her own “youngest player to . . .” headline. With her uncle on the bag, Pressel qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at age 12. When she qualified again in 2003, Pressel briefly held the lead during the opening round at Pumpkin Ridge.
Pressel will enter her third LPGA major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship (March 24-27), as Golfweek’s top-ranked amateur and junior. Like most of the Rancho Mirage field, however, Pressel will go about her tournament preparation in the willowy shadow of Michelle Wie.
There’s no doubt the feisty Pressel savors the spotlight. But she’s OK with taking a backseat to Wie and 18-year-old tour rookie Paula Creamer – for now.
“I don’t feel left out. It’s given me opportunity to improve my game without people watching me all the time, (and) everybody having an opinion on my game,” said Pressel, who ousted Wie at the 2003 U.S. Girls’ Junior. “Look at what’s happening to Michelle now – it can’t be easy.”
While Wie tested her mettle against male players last year, Pressel padded her resume with a string of impressive titles. She notched another “youngest player to . . .” record when she captured the North and South Women’s Amateur at 16. Pressel’s four AJGA titles included the Polo Golf Junior Classic and Tournament of Champions.
And her 10-under 62 at the PGA Village Dye Course in November wasn’t too shabby either. Pressel’s personal-best came during the final round of the Class 1A Florida High School Athletic Association tournament, where the St. Andrews School junior recorded her second consecutive state title. In January, she took over the No. 1 spot in the Golfweek/Titleist Amateur Rankings with a victory at the Harder Hall Invitational.
“I think her ability to make the ball do what she wants it to do has improved significantly from this time last year,” said Martin Hall, Pressel’s longtime instructor. “She has the gift for getting the job done. That’s one of the intangibles, isn’t it?”
Pressel’s inner fire could be her greatest asset.
Her mother, Kathy, who as Kathy Krickstein was a former Big Ten tennis champion at Michigan, instilled her daughter’s competitive spark. Pressel, who says she cries after losing a game of gin, was so similar to her mother in attitude and appearance that family referred to her as “Kathy II” as a child.
Kathy Pressel lost a four-year battle with breast cancer in September 2003. Morgan turned to golf for therapy.
“Her mother wrote her before she died, saying she wanted her to try her best in everything she did,” said Herb Krickstein, who stops by the cemetery with Pressel whenever they practice at Banyan. “It’s sad, but she’s dealt with it well. . . . She never gets down.”
Following her mother’s death, Pressel moved in with her grandparents to focus on her future. Her father, Mike, and her younger brother and sister live 10 minutes down the road in Boca Raton.
Pressel and her grandfather, at 16 and 70, consider themselves an “odd couple.” Practically joined at the hip at tournaments and practice sessions, the pair share a fast-paced banter that’s never short on laughs. Herb Krickstein couldn’t imagine he’d be orchestrating another sporting career, but he’s loving every minute of it.
“One thing I like about Morgan is she has a very positive attitude. . . . She’s very confidant without being cocky,” said Krickstein. “My son was like that too, but I wish he would’ve had a little bit more of her feistiness.”
Because the shelf-life of a professional golfer is considerably longer than that of a tennis player, Krickstein sees no reason to rush. He’s careful to strike a delicate balance with his granddaughter, encouraging her one moment and bringing her back down to earth the next.
Like many 16-year-olds, Pressel blushes when speaking of her boyfriend of five months. She’s still nagged by her grandmother to take her vitamins (Pressel recently graduated from the Flintstones variety) and she avoids all vegetables. Her college wish list is exceedingly short: Duke. And she’s still distressed about missing one question on the math section of the SAT (for a 790 on the math portion).
Over the last 15 months, Pressel’s 5-foot-5 frame has been trimmed and strengthened thanks to work with Randy Myers, fitness director at PGA National Resort and Spa. Now that his granddaughter has honed her long-iron consistency, Krickstein says another 15 yards off the tee (she hits it 250) should complete the package.
The way Pressel and her grandfather see it, there are 8 to 10 players in the 15-20 age range with explosive potential.
Teens have shined at Nabisco in recent years. But even her uncle Aaron knows that one solid week guarantees nothing.
“You don’t want to get too excited if you do great because there’s always more work to do,”
said the former tennis champion. “There’s always someone working harder than you are, or just as hard.”