By  on February 16, 2006

NEW YORK — Polo Ralph Lauren is upping the stakes in sports sponsorship by signing 17-year-old golfer Morgan Pressel, the first time the fashion giant has endorsed an American female athlete. Terms of the three-year deal were not disclosed.

Pressel who makes her professional debut today on the LPGA Tour and was number one on the U.S. Women's Amateur tour last year, will wear Polo apparel in all of her matches, as well as off the course. She also will be featured in the company's spring golf marketing campaign, including print and online components, which kicks off in April. Her full assortment of looks from the Polo Ralph Lauren Golf collection includes mesh shirts, shorts and skorts in colors such as blue and white.

"Morgan is vibrant, talented and embodies the future of golf," David Lauren, senior vice president of advertising, marketing and communications, said on Wednesday. "Ralph Lauren has been a leader in the world of golf design for decades and we have worked closely with the sport's most influential athletes."

Polo sponsors a handful of male golfers, including Tom Watson, and had a deal with Swedish female golfer Carin Koch in 2001 and 2002.

The company declined to reveal sales in its golf division, but it is clearly a growing focus for the firm, which posted overall revenues of $2.77 billion in the nine-month period ended Dec. 31. As it seeks to build its business in new areas, Polo has been stepping up its athletic-related activities. Last year, it became the title apparel sponsor for tennis' U.S. Open with a multimillion-dollar, four-year contract, under which it provides apparel and footwear for the judges, umpires and ball boys and girls. Under another sponsorship deal, Polo provides uniforms for Aspen Snowmass ski area instructors, patrollers and lift operators.

While still largely unknown outside of the golf community, Pressel has emerged as a player to watch. A senior at St. Andrew's School near Boca Raton, Fla., Pressel has been playing golf since she was eight years old and set a record in 2001 as the youngest player to ever qualify for a U.S. Women's Open event at the age of 12. Last year, she was a runner-up in the U.S. Women's Open, and finished in the top 25 in the seven LPGA events in which she played. Pressel recently was dubbed "Miss Firecracker" by Golf Digest for her explosive style and penchant for speaking her mind, especially in regard to 16-year-old golf phenom and rival Michelle Wie.

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