She’s at the Fore-Front

Morgan Pressel stood on the green just feet from the 18th hole. For any other competitor, this might be a tense moment, fraught with anticipation. But just as she''d done over the course of the last three days, the Jewish teen took a calm swing of her putter, and the ball rolled right into its target.

Pressel breezily walked off the course at White Manor Country Club in Malvern, the winner of her fifth American Junior Golf Association Invitational tournament, a feat never accomplished in the association''s 27-year history.

The native of Boca Raton, Fla. – a mere 17 years old – has had a successful career that began a decade ago, and only heated up just this year when she tied for second place in the U.S. Women''s Open.

"She''s had one of the best junior golf careers that any player has ever had," said Rob Coleman of the AJGA, which counts such big-wig golfers as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as past alumni. "I believe that soon she will be a household name among all golf fans."

With her blond ponytail and partially freckled face – marked by awkward tan lines from her visor – she seems no different from other teenagers who hug their friends after good meets, or enjoy spending time off the course in front of a computer or with a boyfriend.

And she''s had another typical rite of passage: She became a Bat Mitzvah at Congregation B''nai Torah in Boca Raton.

But last week''s McDonald''s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship three-day invitational – which Pressel won by an 11-shot margin that included a hole-in-one on the third hole – will likely be her last AJGA tournament; indeed, it will likely mark the end of whatever "normal" teenage life she''s had.

''Only One Other Exception''
Last month, the golfer petitioned the Ladies Professional Golf Association to bypass the rules and grant her permission to join the tour prior to her 18th birthday.

The association answered that they will let her play in this year''s fall sectionals to qualify for membership, but if membership is granted, it will not go into effect until May 23, 2006, when she turns 18. This means that she will compete against other members of the association and can collect money for any victories, but wins and losses will not go toward a ranking.

"We''ve only made one other exception for a golfer," said LPGA spokeswoman Laura Neal. "For someone just 17, Morgan''s record is exceptional."

Despite Pressel''s impressive record, golf fans may be more familiar with young superstar Michelle Wie, the 15-year-old amateur golfer who this season has made attempts to qualify as a member of the Professional Golf Association, obviously a mostly male group. The media attention surrounding the 6-foot-tall Wie, who can drive the ball about the same distance as PGA players, often overshadows Pressel.

But according to Coleman, the two players are really comparable in skill.

With Pressel''s impending professional status, the soon-to-be senior at Saint Andrews School in Boca Raton – though run by Episcopalians, Pressel asserts that there are "many Jews at the school" – gave up her acceptance offer to Duke University for the 2006 academic year. Though an "A" student at the $20,000-a-year private high school, Pressel doubts that she will ever attend Duke – or any other college, for that matter.

While forgoing a college education may not be the norm among young golfers, according to Neal, it isn''t a rarity either.

"She is a very driven, very focused person," said Rick Woelfel, associate editor of Philadelphia Golf Magazine. "I think the thing that impressed me most about her as a person is she''s a very poised young woman, but when she is on the course, she has a mindset where she wants to stomp her opponents into the ground. That''s something only a truly elite athlete has."

Perhaps the competitiveness is something in her blood.

Her father was a hockey player and her mother, who died of breast cancer in 2003, won the Big 10 tennis championship while at the University of Michigan in 1978. Pressel''s biggest influence, however, is her uncle, tennis player Aaron Krickstein, who played professionally in the 1980s and early 1990s. The two happen to share the same coach: Herb Krickstein, Aaron''s father and Pressel''s grandfather.

"My grandpa''s been through [the professional world] before with my uncle, and he knows what to do," said Pressel. "And he''s helped me tremendously and been terrific."

After being presented as the tournament winner, Pressel choked back tears as she thanked her grandparents, who travel to most tournaments with her, and the AJGA staff for "five great years."

As Pressel embarks on her professional life and takes the road that bypasses sorority parties and thick text books, many eyes will be focused on her.

"The commissioner wouldn''t grant the special exemption if her performance wasn''t up to speed," said Neal. "She''s already proven herself at a major LPGA event, and we expect big things from Morgan in the future."



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