It’s the photo that draws you in. Three little girls double-clutching oversized crystal trophies from one of the biggest days in their young golfing lives.
There’s Mariah Stackhouse with her broad smile, already dressed like a pro. On the right, there is Alexis Thompson — not yet “Lexi” — with her trademark ponytail. And in the middle is Marissa Kay, the smallest of the three, holding the biggest trophy as the winner of the girls 7-and-under division at the 2001 Doral Publix Junior Golf Classic.
It’s the kind of day where golf dreams are formed. This event (now the First Tee of Miami Doral Junior Golf Classic) is one of the top junior tournaments on the calendar, bringing more than 600 boys and girls from around the world to South Florida each December. Stackhouse and Thompson would later add their names to the championship roster, joining a long list of winners who set their sights on the LPGA Tour. Past winners Michelle McGann, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer and Carlota Ciganda are just a few of the victors who would go on to play professionally.
But what about the girl in the middle? She chose a different path.
It was her father, Gary, who handed Marissa her first golf club. Her family moved from Maryland to South Florida when she was 5 years old — close to the family of her mother, Renee. Marissa loved being with her cousins, Morgan and Madison Pressel, which meant spending time at the golf course.
“They were like my big sisters,” Marissa said. “Morgan was seven years older than me and Madison, four years older. Our grandfather, Papa Krickstein, worked with them from an early age. The practices were already happening, so I was just brought along on that journey.”
Sports were in the Krickstein DNA. Herb Krickstein and his wife, Evelyn, raised their four children as tennis players. Their son, Aaron, played professionally and their three daughters were also accomplished players.
Dr. Krickstein thought his granddaughters were more suited for golf. He was right.
The Pressel sisters quickly developed as leading junior players. At just 12 years old, Morgan became the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, a mark that would later be eclipsed by Thompson (2007) and then Lucy Li (2014).
“Morgan was obviously so young and talented,” Marissa said. “I knew it was extremely hard to qualify for the Open, but she made it feel so attainable.”
The cousins continued to practice and play together. Marissa made the Saint Andrew’s School golf team in sixth grade and played on the squad through her high school graduation.
“When I was a junior in high school, I played in the ANNIKA Invitational. Annika spoke to the players and said, ‘Raise your hand if you want to be a professional golfer.’ Almost everyone in the room raised their hand and I just sat with my hands in my lap. That was never my dream.” – Marissa Kay
Outside of golf, Marissa excelled in the classroom as well. Renee remembers that her daughter enjoyed studying and hated to miss school: “She played AJGA events mostly in the summer so that she didn’t have to choose between going to class or playing golf,” Renee said.
“Golf was never her everything,” Morgan said. “She had so many other interests. She’s brilliant, creative, curious and fun. She’s always been this wonderful spirit, thoughtful, sweet and big-hearted.”
Although pro sports ran in the family and she achieved early success in golf, Marissa never aspired to play on the LPGA Tour.
“When I was a junior in high school, I played in the ANNIKA Invitational,” Marissa said. “Annika spoke to the players and said, ‘Raise your hand if you want to be a professional golfer.’ Almost everyone in the room raised their hand and I just sat with my hands in my lap. That was never my dream.”
Marissa was again influenced by her family.
“My brother, Stanley, stopped playing golf to pursue his interest in journalism,” Marissa said. “Seeing him take another path gave me courage to go to college, get a great education and see where that would take me.”
And she also learned from Morgan:.
“Growing up, I saw Morgan playing on the LPGA and she was obviously very successful,” Marissa said. “It can seem glamorous, playing in the best tournaments on the best courses. But it’s grueling to travel every week and not know whether you’ll make a paycheck.”
Marissa enjoyed team golf and set her sights on finding a university where she could pursue her academic interests and play collegiate golf.
She found her fit at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the eight Ivy League schools known for their emphasis on academics. She was thriving as a business student in the Wharton School. Her golf teammates had become close friends. She joined a sorority and was active in campus life.
And still, she wanted to do more.
Halfway through her junior year, Marissa made the wrenching decision to step away from competitive golf.
“I found myself wishing I was doing other things instead of playing golf,” Marissa said. “So I decided to step away … the hardest conversations were with my coach and teammates. But I couldn’t have asked for a better response. They understood it was the best thing for me at that time.”
Marissa graduated magna cum laude in 2017 and headed to New York to begin her career. The girl who loved learning is excelling in the corporate world. She progressed quickly and, at just 27 years old, is now the senior manager of pricing strategy for WeWork, a company that focuses on workspace and office space solutions.
“Marissa is an overachiever in everything she does,” Morgan said. “She has the intelligence and the drive to succeed in business, but she also has the rare quality to draw people in and put them at ease.”
When I asked Marissa if she has any regrets with golf, her answer was an unequivocal ‘no.’
Her time away from competitive golf has given her perspective and a new love for the game.
“If I hadn’t played golf, I’d be a different person today,” Marissa said. “It taught me to be independent and grow as my own person. It taught me to make my own decisions. It taught me to separate my emotions from my work. And it helped me build relationships with people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Marissa has no grand career plan, at least not yet. But she does have the hunger to learn, grow, build relationships and be part of a team. And she’d like to play more golf, both socially and in business.
Most of her coworkers don’t know that she played in college.
“It’s a fun thing to have in my back pocket,” she said. “‘Oh, you’re looking for someone for the corporate scramble team? I can play’.”
Marissa got married last year and now lives in Boston. Her wedding gift to her husband was a set of golf clubs. He’s new to the game and it’s something they enjoy doing together.
“I’ve started to practice again and appreciate when I do get to play,” Marissa said. “But I’ll never let him beat me. Never.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Marissa what advice she would give her younger self.
“I’d tell young Marissa there are different paths in golf and they’re all good,” she said. “Some people may choose to play on tour and that’s amazing. Others will want to play in college and that’s also great. Some people might play to enjoy time with friends or family or to be outside in beautiful places. They’re all good reasons. I’d want her to know that you don’t have to compete at the highest level to enjoy the game.”
It’s been more than 20 years since Marissa, Stackhouse and Thompson posed with their trophies at the Doral Publix Junior Golf Classic.
Mariah went on to play at Stanford University where she was a four-year All-American and helped her team win the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf National Championship. She qualified for the LPGA Tour in 2017 and continues to play on the Epson and LPGA Tours. She’s an ambassador for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf and works to bring more underrepresented women and girls to golf.
Lexi was homeschooled and turned professional at 15. She’s been on the LPGA Tour for more than a decade and has 11 LPGA victories. She’s a two-time Olympian and is also an ambassador for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf. One of the game’s most popular stars, she’s developing the “Lexi” brand in skin care and fitness.
Three little girls who met on the kind of day where dreams are formed and whose lives have been profoundly shaped by golf.
Now remarkable young women, each choosing her own path.
Roberta Bowman is a guest contributor and former LPGA Chief Brand & Communication Officer.
Photos: Courtesy Marissa Kay
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