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2nd-generation prodigy

The Baltimore Sun

Herb Krickstein has been there before.

Long before Morgan Pressel, his granddaughter, played in her first golf tournament or even qualified for the U.S. Women's Open at age 12 or won her first professional major championship at age 18, Krickstein understood the nature of what it takes to be a sports prodigy.

Krickstein's son, Aaron, was one nearly a quarter-century ago.

Aaron Krickstein became the youngest male tennis player to win a professional event at age 16 in Tel Aviv in 1983, and would go on to have a productive 13-year career. Playing in an era dominated by legends such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and later Pete Sampras, Krickstein won nine events, but no Grand Slams.

As he did with his only son, the elder Krickstein has been instrumental in guiding Pressel's career, taking on a more expanded role when her mother, Kathy, died in 2003 after a long battle with cancer. Krickstein credits the time he spent managing his son's career with helping him guide Pressel.

"I think the expectations on these young athletes as soon as they win, they're just tremendous, they just keep growing," Herb Krickstein, a retired physician, said recently. "Once you win a big one like she won, those expectations keep going and you just deal with it and separate yourself from it."

Said Pressel: "I've always put tons of pressure on myself. I'm not going to say that there's more pressure because I do know that now I can do it. So I'll be even more disappointed when I don't."

The expectations have been heaped on Pressel for a long time and have grown exponentially since she won this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship. Along with the second leg of the women's Grand Slam, Pressel will be seeking redemption when she comes to Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace this week for the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

In an otherwise successful 2006 rookie season in which she made the cut in 21 of 23 events, including nine top 10 finishes, Pressel went from being in contention the first two days of last year's tournament to shooting 13-over par for the weekend and finishing tied for 69th.

While her first professional victory ratcheted up the already huge expectations on Pressel, made her the youngest major champion in LPGA history and helped move her to No. 4 in the world rankings, it did little to change her approach.

"There's no reason to slow down," she said. "That doesn't mean that you don't take a little bit of time off and you reflect on what's going on, but I've always worked very hard and pushed myself to get better as fast as I can. It all happened pretty quickly but I like it to happen faster."

Pressel is now the only American player under 27 currently on tour to have won a major.

"Obviously it's been great for my confidence," said Pressel, whose best previous finish in a major since turning pro last year was a tie for 13th at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco. "This is my dream to win out here and to know that I can really do it and hopefully I can continue to do it and do it more often."

Pressel has carried those dreams since her days as one of the country's most accomplished junior and amateur players. She was the youngest player in history to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open, at 12. She showed up at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., a few weeks after her 13th birthday with braces and bravado, then missed the cut.

"It seems like it's been ages ago," Pressel said. "It's going to be really cool to go back there this year [for this year's Open in July] and see what's changed. But that was such a great experience for me. That was when I realized what I wanted to do."

While still an amateur, Pressel nearly won her first professional major. At the 2005 U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills outside Denver, Pressel watched from the 18th fairway as South Korea's Birdie Kim holed out from a green-side bunker to win by two strokes.

What many remember even more than Kim's victory was Pressel sobbing after finishing her round.

Pressel knows she will have to change to some degree.

"I think I'll always be somebody who is emotional on the golf course," Pressel said. "But in that sense, I do have to control it, not let it affect me. If I hit a bad shot, I can't let my emotions carry over to the next shot, the next hole, the next few holes."

Aaron Krickstein said that he was forced to change his on-court personality when he turned pro, going from a combustible racket-thrower as a junior to a player who was competitive but more in control. He hopes that his niece can make similar adjustments but understands that their personalities are much different.

"I think she needs to work on channeling her emotions and forgetting about the last shot," said Krickstein, who runs the tennis program at a country club in Boca Raton, Fla., where Pressel grew up and still lives. "She's always going to be who she is, but that's why she's as good as she is."

More memorable than any shot she hit at Mission Hills Country Club during this year's Kraft Nabisco was the way Pressel celebrated her win. Starting with Amy Alcott in 1988, nearly every champion at a tournament once called the Nabisco Dinah Shore has jumped into the pond by the 18th green, sometimes with her caddie.

Pressel was the first to take her grandmother, Evelyn, in with her, too.

Has the victory sunk in yet?

"I don't know," she said more than a month later. "I guess when you jump in the water kind of wakes you up when you realize exactly what's happened."

There has been a price for the increased spotlight. When she arrived back at the airport in Fort Lauderdale the next day, Pressel realized that her clubs had been stolen. She said last week that she heard some of the clubs were found in the Miami area.

Not that Pressel is satisfied with her first professional win, even a major.

"To see the trophy in my dining room, that's pretty cool," she said. "But other than that, I don't really sit and think about it too much. I want to be looking forward, looking to play better, hopefully winning more events."

don.markus@baltsun.com

LPGA Championship

Schedule

Today -- Pro-am, 7 a.m.

Tomorrow -- Practice round, time TBA.

Thursday-Friday -- First and second round, 7 a.m. (TV: 12:30 p.m.-3 p.m., Golf Channel).

Saturday-Sunday -- Third and fourth rounds, 8:30 a.m. (TV: 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Golf Channel).

Tickets

Daily pass -- Today and tomorrow, $20; Thursday and Friday, $22; Saturday and Sunday, $25.

Weeklong badge -- $65.

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