Young and relentless

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

It wasn't long ago Morgan Pressel was standing on the other side of the ropes.

These days, she has mixed emotions when she sees young girls lining the fairways at an LPGA Tour stop.

"I just think they're going to come take my money some day," she said with a laugh.

Pressel is living proof it can happen.

Fast.

Just four years after being named the top junior golfer in the U.S., the 21-year-old has already won two professional events and etched her name in the record books as the youngest major winner in LPGA Tour history.

As a golf-crazy kid, Pressel dreamed of becoming an LPGA Tour superstar and collected autographs whenever the pros rolled through her hometown of Boca Raton, Fla. Now, she's the one signing hats and golf balls and exchanging smiles with the next generation of golf greats.

"I remember waiting behind the 18th green for autographs and that was the most exciting thing in the world for me. That's what these little kids love," Pressel said. "Karrie (Webb) talked to me when I asked for her autograph and I'll never forget that ... And maybe less than a year after asking her for her autograph, I was playing against her in the U.S. Open, and she won.

"That was kind of surreal. It's been a special ride."

If Pressel accepted one of the numerous scholarship offers she received after a stellar junior career, she'd likely be slated to graduate next spring.

Instead, she turned pro as a teenager and has already pocketed about US$2.5 million in prize money and won a pair of LPGA Tour events, including the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Pressel is one of a handful of talented, attractive young golfers who are changing the face of women's golf.

Paula Creamer, 23, has already won eight LPGA Tour trophies and is currently ranked fourth in the world, trailing only Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, South Korea's Yani Tseng and American Cristie Kerr.

Brittany Lincicome, 23, won her first major championship in April and now has three tournament titles to her credit. And 19-year-old Michelle Wie is starting to live up to the potential that made her a household name among golf fans long before she was even old enough to drive a car.

"It's become very youthful on our tour, and you see that every day," Pressel said. "It'll be interesting to see how the tour develops in the next few years ... how the new young players that are coming up now will develop and how the tour will change in the next decade, because it has changed tremendously in the past."

Few predicted the young stars would be having so much success, so soon.

At the inaugural Junior Solheim Cup competition in 2002, Creamer and Pressel teamed up with Lincicome and Kristy McPherson, among others, to lead the American team in a romp over a crew of up-and-comers from across the pond. The fab four joined forces again two weeks ago, helping guide Team USA to a 16-12 victory over the Europeans at the LPGA's version of the Ryder Cup.

"We all grew up together, so to have them out there with me, it just kind of feels like junior golf but a little bit bigger -- and, obviously, you're playing for money," Lincicome said.

They're winning money, too.

When the LPGA Tour visited Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club for the 1999 du Maurier Classic, the likes of Laura Davies, Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon, Dottie Pepper and others found themselves in familiar territory near the top of the money list.

As the pros prepare to tee off at the pristine private track again this week, there's a batch of fresh faces gunning to add Canada's national championship to already impressive golf resumes.

If Pressel's attitude is any indication, the youngsters aren't just happy to be playing on the top tour.

"I want to be the best I can be," she said. "And I think the best that I can be is at the top of the game."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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