On Monday afternoon, Morgan Pressel slung a St. Andrews High School golf bag over her shoulder and headed down the first fairway at Broken Sound Country Club's West Course. The U.S. Women's Amateur champion and a runner-up in this year's Women's Open, Pressel was competing in the Florida State High School District 21-A tournament, the first of two stages leading up to the state championship. Her playing partner, teammate Adrienne Pinero, shot 107. With a small gallery of Broken Sound members following along, Pressel posted a casual 69.
This was not the amped-up girl who came within a miracle shot by Birdie Kim of sweeping the Amateur and the Open, who, at 17, would have been the youngest winner of a major -- men's or women's -- in golf history. This was Morgan Pressel Lite.
"This year, I'm just not really worrying too much about it," Pressel told The Palm Beach Post. "I'm not stressing over a bad shot, it's relaxing ... Adrienne and I had a good time today."
The irony and contrast to Pressel's high-stress summer is that St. Andrews went unopposed on Monday. There were no other high schools in District 21-A fielding a girls' golf team. Their No. 2 player was on vacation. Their No. 5 player sat out with an injured toe. The two other players filling out the lineup, Haley Gruber and Megan Michienzi, shot 101 and 140, respectively.
"The people following her made the comment they think it's unbelievable she's still playing high-school golf," said Pressel's grandfather, coach and mentor, Herb Krickstein. "But she wants to do something for the school. They've given her a lot of support. She could have not played the high-school golf season, but she enjoys her teammates, the interaction with them. She's trying to help them. You know, she's a friendly person. Although it's quite a step down from the last group of the U.S. Open, she hasn't changed."
On Thursday, Pressel will be a curious observer of the Samsung World Championship. Sometime after classes, homework and practice, she will tune in to watch Michelle Wie make her professional debut. Eight days after signing a contract worth $10 million from Nike and Sony, and two days after turning 16, Wie will cash in at her first tournament. Pressel will be getting ready for the Region 7-A tournament at Boca Raton Municipal Golf Course.
"She might watch a little," Krickstein said. "Morgan's close with Annika Sorenstam. She always cheers for her. She'll want to know how Paula's [Creamer] doing, and she'll be interested in how Michelle's doing. She'll know what's going on. You can't help but know what's going on."
Pressel and Wie have been bound by their precocity -- and a series of quotes that ran in Sports Illustrated after the Women's Open. Playing in the last group, Wie shot 82 and finished T-23. Pressel had the tournament won until Kim holed out from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole at Cherry Hills. She finished with a bogey to tie another amateur, Brittany Lang, for second.
"Michelle hasn't played a lot of junior golf, so she hasn't learned how to finish tournaments," Pressel told SI. "She's obviously more interested in making cuts. But if you keep playing against players you can't beat, how are you going to learn to win?"
If this sounds like the makings of a teen rivalry, read on. Pressel was just warming up:
"I was shocked that there wasn't more talk of Michelle Wie's final round 82 [at the U.S. Women's Open]. I mean, why is that? Or about how when it looked like she was going to make the cut at the John Deere Classic, she played the last four holes in three over par."
"Are the press and other players just trying to be politically correct? I don't believe in being politically correct. Michelle hasn't played a lot of junior golf, so she hasn't learned how to finish tournaments."
The truth is, Pressel is tougher, knows how to finish and might end up having a better career in women's golf than Wie, whose physical talents are greater and whose marketability was protected by not playing -- and getting beat -- at high-level junior golf. At the same time, Pressel doesn't have the length Wie has, power that enables her to compete and come close to making cuts on the PGA Tour. Their duel would be the hottest story on the LPGA Tour in 2006, but it has been put on hold by the 18-year-old age limit required for membership.
They can play in six regular LPGA events, plus the U.S. and British women's opens. Pressel shot 63 in the final round of the second stage and will be in the Q School finals Nov. 30-Dec. 4 in Daytona Beach, Fla. The week before, Wie will play in Japan at the Casio World Open, a men's event on the Asian circuit.
New LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens is inheriting a nice problem. She has maintained that Wie and Pressel may petition for membership. Wie will have the leverage of LPGA sponsors lobbying for her. As Scott Seymour, vice president of Octagon, told Golf World, "[Wie] will be the most recognized female athlete on the planet for the next 12 to 18 months." Pressel won't have that kind of leverage, but she probably will have a tour card she won't be able to use until May 23, her 18th birthday.
"No final decision has been made, but if she does get through Q School, then she may have a discussion with Bivens," Krickstein said. "I don't know about petitioning ... they're probably prepared for that. I don't know what [Bivens] will do. We've only met briefly. Of the hundreds of hundreds of people we've talked to about it, hardly anybody can understand it."
What confuses Krickstein and Pressel is the ambiguity of the decision rendered by Ty Votaw in his final months of office -- why let her go to Q School and not be a member of the tour? This policy is consistent with the PGA Tour's, and affected Ty Tryon when he earned his card in 2001 and didn't turn 18 until June 2002. What's questionable is that the money Pressel could earn as a pro in those six sponsor's exemptions will not could toward official money. "We should be happy, that's what [Votaw] told us," Krickstein said. "In our minds, it was a halfway decision."
Krickstein has been down this road before with his own son, Aaron. As a teenager, Aaron was a tennis phenom, losing to John McEnroe in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 1983 and becoming, at 16, the youngest singles champion on the ATP Tour. Now 38, his career cut short by injuries, Aaron Krickstein is the director of tennis at St. Andrews Country Club. He gets out to play the exhibition circuit in the Hamptons, Spain and Bermuda, and monitors his niece's career closely.
Pressel already is competing as much as a professional as Wie intends to do. At the end of the summer, she played two LPGA events (Wendy's and State Farm) and the Junior Solheim Cup, came home for a week, then traveled to California for Q School. She missed four of the first five weeks of her senior year, but has been busy catching up in an advanced placement curriculum that had her accepting a scholarship at Duke, had she stayed amateur. The night after returning home from Q School, she gave a speech at St. Andrews High to the Scots Society, a philanthropic group that supports the school. Right now, she is working on a paper in anatomy that focuses on breast cancer, which took her mother's life in 2003, when Kathy Krickstein Pressel was 43.
The Wie-Pressel dynamic will play itself out. They could become friends and Solheim Cup teammates, but ultimately they will be joined in a fierce rivalry -- along with Creamer and Lang -- that will fuel the LPGA for at least a decade. For now, they are just two kids growing up in a hurry.
"I can't speak for Michelle and her path, that's the path they've chosen -- obviously it's been very lucrative to them," Krickstein said. "I congratulate them on their big contracts, but you never know about people, whether she is missing some of the things she might not want to be missing. I don't know, that's for her and her family to think about 20 years from now. I know Aaron missed some things growing up, and he talks about it now a little bit."
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.