Krickstein knows more about developing young talent than most. His son, Aaron, became a professional tennis player in 1983 at the age of 16; two weeks later he was the youngest tournament winner in ATP history. During an injury-plagued, 13-year career he was ranked as high as sixth in the world. "Aaron wasn't as tough mentally as Morgan, or he'd have done better," says Herb, a retired pathologist. "Tennis is like a prizefight: Somebody wins, somebody loses. In golf you play against the course, not the players. It's not as hard on you emotionally."
Morgan's mother, Kathy Krickstein Pressel, was also a tennis player. She won a Big Ten title in 1978 at Michigan and was a teaching pro for 15 years. Herb says Morgan is "a carbon copy of her mother. She looks like her and has the same temperament. She's very emotional and strong-minded." Morgan tried playing tennis, but Herb observed that while his eight-year-old granddaughter had great hand-eye coordination, she lacked quickness. A recreational golfer, he took Morgan to the range to hit a few balls. "Right from the start," Herb says, "she had the most natural swing."
After Morgan turned 10, Herb would drive her every Sunday to West Palm Beach to take lessons from Martin Hall, who has been Morgan's only instructor since then. Pressel broke 70 at age 11, then at 12 became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open, carding a 70 with her Uncle Aaron carrying her bag. She shot 77--77 and missed the cut. "I'd only been playing four years, so I wasn't that good," she says. "But I had so much fun that week, I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer."
She started practicing after school until dark and then six or seven hours daily on the weekends. Her improvement was dramatic. In July 2003, when Pressel was 15 and Wie was already famous at 13, they faced off in match play for the first time. Pressel prevailed 3 and 2 in the round of 16 at the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship. "I knew I had the game to beat her," Pressel says. "I'm pretty tough mentally."
Morgan needed her toughness that summer, when Kathy, who had battled breast cancer four years earlier, learned that the disease had spread to her brain. "Morgan would try to play in a tournament, then her mother would take a turn for the worse, and she'd have to pull out," Herb recalls. Kathy was only 43 when she died. "I think about her a lot," Morgan says. "I'm a stronger person because of it."
The tragedy exacerbated a rift that had developed between Morgan and her father, Mike, who works in commercial real estate. Morgan says they have a "personality conflict," though she won't go into specifics. After her mother's death Morgan told her father she wanted to move in with her grandparents Herb and Evelyn, who live just a 10-minute drive away. In doing so, she left her sister, Madison, now 14, and brother, Mitchell, 12, behind. "It wasn't a pleasant decision, and it wasn't approved by me," Mike says. "But I'm a single father and a widower and have two other children to worry about. It was a parenting thing she didn't like. She was a 15-year-old who'd just lost her mother and was pissed at the world. Right now the relationship is O.K., so I don't want to say anything. Things are amicable."
Morgan, who frequently talks to her brother and sister on the phone, has thrived while living with the Kricksteins, who have the time to accompany her to tournaments. Herb, a 14 handicapper who has been as low as a seven, works with her on course management and putting, scouring books and scanning the Golf Channel for tips. They have a sweet, affecting relationship. "It's fun," Morgan says. "We have a great time. There's definitely a generation gap, but my grandparents have come a long way."
Herb intends to be by her side this week, when Pressel tries to win her first U.S. Women's Amateur, at Ansley Golf Club in Roswell, Ga. A potential rematch with Wie won't happen, however, because Wie skipped the Amateur, figuring she could not be at her best if she flew back from England on Sunday night and teed off at Ansley on Monday. "I was looking forward to playing her last year, but In-Bee Park beat her in the second round," Pressel says. "Actually, Michelle lost. She was 2 up with three to play and lost the last three holes. She three-putted the 18th from 15 feet."
Though Pressel delights in pointing out chinks in the Wie armor, she's looking past the young Hawaiian to a long career during which she becomes the talk of the golf world. "I want to make a splash," Pressel says. "My ultimate goal is to be Number 1 in the world and to make it to the Hall of Fame. I want to bring more money and attention to the LPGA. There's a younger generation coming along that has the potential to do that, and some interesting rivalries are developing." She smiles knowingly, her green eyes bright. "Rivalries are not always a bad thing, right?"
Not a bad thing at all.