Pressel shines on golf’s biggest stages
BY NEAL REID
You aren’t asked to team with Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam in the ADT Skills Challenge if you don’t have a big game.
But that’s exactly what Morgan Pressel has, and she’s been exhibiting it since she turned professional at the age of 17. Pressel and Sorenstam won $161,000 at the special competition at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 7, and it was another chance for Pressel to show off the skills that have made her one of the LPGA’s top 10 players.
Pressel beat Nick Price in the bunker shot portion of the competition, which will air on NBC Dec. 24-25, and represented the LPGA Tour well with the iconic Sorenstam. It should come as no surprise that Pressel was able to excel on the biggest stage, because she’s been doing just that for years.
She had an amateur career that would make any aspiring junior golfer jealous: qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open at age 12 in 2001; tying for second at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur; notching 11 American Junior Golf Association victories; and becoming a five-time Rolex Junior All-American. Pressel was also a three-time U.S. PING Junior Solheim Cup Team member and recorded another top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour as an amateur.
In a much publicized event, Pressel was granted special permission to try and qualify for the LPGA Tour at age 17, and she did exactly that by finishing tied for sixth at the LPGA’s qualifying tournament. Granted full membership in 2006 at the age of 18, Pressel didn’t waste much time making a name for herself.
She had 10 top-10s in her rookie year and broke through for her first victory in a major way in 2007, winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship to become the youngest player ever to win an LPGA major. In fact, majors have been where Pressel has excelled while others faltered.
Of her 47 career top-10 finishes, eight of those have come in major championships. Pressel said her consistency and short game help carry her when the pressure is at its greatest.
“Success in a major, in general, relies on consistency and not necessarily about who’s the longest hitter out there,” Pressel said. “I’m fairly consistent and keep the ball in play. They also place a lot of importance on short game, which is my other major strength.
“Putting, chipping and being able to recover (are key), because you’re not going to be able to hit every green in a major like you would in a regular event.”
Being mentally tough is also crucial for achieving success in majors, and Pressel finds that her focus is best during the major championships.
“I think I’m probably at my toughest mentally in majors because I know they’re going to be mentally tough,” she said. “So, I become mentally stronger. They are the most difficult tests we face. It’s like going in for an AP exam instead of going in for a normal test. You’re going to study a little harder and make sure you’re well-prepared.”
Speaking of pressure, representing one’s country in The Solheim Cup produces immense pressure that some players find difficult to overcome. That has not happened for the three-time U.S. Team member Pressel, who has a 7-2-2 career record in the prestigious international event.
“There’s nothing like it,” Pressel said of The Solheim Cup. “There’s nothing I’ve done or will ever do that will top the emotion and the experience of being on the Solheim Cup Team. We’re all great friends, and I always joke that it’s like the LPGA’s version of a sorority. It’s definitely an elite club I’ve been grateful to be a part of three times.
“It’s just a different experience in golf. We play by ourselves week-in and week-out, and then for one week every two years, we all get together, support each other and work toward the same goal of representing our country and winning The Solheim Cup.”
The way she’s been playing, Pressel should have ample opportunities to chase more majors and Solheim Cup victories for some time to come.
Neal Reid is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colo., who spent six years as a media relations coordinator for the LPGA from 1998-2004. He has written for The Associated Press, Colorado Springs Gazette, Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News, among many others.