Golf prodigy comes of age

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

You can hardly pick up a golf magazine or watch a golf channel anymore without hearing about another incredibly gifted, incredibly young child prodigy trying to follow in the footsteps of Tiger Woods.

Wow, look at that four-year-old kid whack the driver!

Wow, look at that 12-year-old shoot 76!

Wow listen to the announcer assure us this plucky wunderkind is on a paved road to greatness!

Later in life, however, most of these youngsters discover some sobering truths: Getting older doesn't automatically lower your score, and the gap between "great for your age" and "good enough to be a touring pro," is greater than they'd ever imagined.

Most of them never bridge it. But for every thousand 'Can't Miss Kids' who stall, there's one who makes it.

Meet Morgan Pressel.

At age six, she broke 80 for the first time. At 12 she became the youngest player to ever qualify for the U.S. Women's Open, playing in the tournament a few weeks later at 13. At 15 she made the cut in the Open and at 17, while still an amateur, she could have won the thing if Birdie Kim hadn't holed one from the sand on 18.

Her first LPGA win was the 2007 Kraft Nabisco, making her the youngest woman, at 18 years, to ever win a major.

Just months after her 19th birthday, barely into her second season as a pro, she is already one of the biggest names in golf.

"It took a lot of hard work, 10 years or so," said Pressel, a Detroit native who now lives in Florida. "I dedicated most of my life to this, so to be here, playing at this level, it's pretty cool.

"Not that I thought it wasn't possible, but it wasn't something that if you suggested it a few years ago I would have said 'Oh yeah, for sure. It's going to happen.' "

Quick starts and athletic ability do run in the family, though. Her uncle is former tennis great Aaron Krickstein, the youngest man to ever win an ATP event (16 years, two months).

So it's no surprise that at her first U.S. Open, walking the same fairways as Annika Sorenstam and Juli Inkster at an age when most girls are barely out of Barbies, that Pressel found her calling.

"That's when I really knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life,"she said.

"I wanted to play on tour. I wanted to compete against the best players in the world - I wanted to be the best player in the world.

"From there it was just a natural progression, and a lot of hard work."

Teens with the physical tools to compete against mature women aren't unique, but one with the mental strength and discipline needed to succeed, especially in a sport like golf, are. Pressel is both, a supreme talent with a fearless, fighting spirit to match.

"When I was 13 at the U.S. Open, that was probably the most nervous I've ever been, but otherwise it's never been too bad," she said, adding she's in awe of her idols, but not intimidated by them.

"I met Karrie (Webb)at the Open at Pine Needles where she won that week. That was pretty cool. They're great. They've been really nice to me, everybody has.

"You obviously respect the names Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, they're great players, but you still want to beat them."

Touring and practising means missing out on some of typical things that go along with being a teenager, but she's not exactly hurting for life experiences.

Top 10 in the world, clothing and club sponsors chasing her down, travelling the world, hanging around the top of LPGA leaderboards. It beats working at The Gap and hanging out at the mall.

"Everybody has their opinions (about turning pro at such an early age)," she said.

"They wanted me to go to college, but it was a personal decision for me, something I felt would help my career the most."

Needless to say, she's rather glad she made that career choice when she was 13.

"It's a great life. It's hectic and it's busy as can be, but at the end of the day we're playing a game and having fun with it. I love it."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA

'I DEDICATED MOST OF MY LIFE TO THIS, SO TO BE HERE, PLAYING AT THIS LEVEL, IT'S PRETTY COOL.'

MORGAN PRESSEL


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