JOHNS CREEK, GEORGIA | The first thing they did was find their names, back-to-back, etched with care into the glistening silver base, simple and dignified. Then Morgan Pressel ran her hand up and down the body of the two-foot-high vase; a gentle but familiar touch as she admired the intricate artwork anew.
The Robert Cox trophy, presented to the USGA in 1896 by a Scottish parliamentarian and golf course architect and given every year since to the winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, is widely recognized as the most beautiful award in golf, and arguably the most stunning in sports. From a distance it glistens the color of fresh mint in a morning dew. The handles look like something from Caesar’s chalice and run the length of both sides, better for hoisting after you capture the most significant title in women’s amateur golf. Only when you inch close do you see the orate and elaborate thistles and the plaid enamel and cairngorm stones surrounding the trophy. There are also two panels, one depicting St Andrews Castle and the other “The Pends,” the pre-Reformation arch guarding the South Street monastery in St Andrews. Cox went to school in the Auld Grey Toon and was a member of the R&A. His is the only USGA trophy gifted by a foreigner. It is also the oldest surviving trophy in women’s golf.
Morgan and Jane Park knew much of that history. They had kept the trophy in their homes in consecutive years. Jane won the U.S. Women’s Amateur as a 17-year-old in 2004 and Pressel won in 2005, also at the age of 17. On Friday, February 10, 2023 they recounted those memories and admired the Robert Cox trophy again at the Atlanta Athletic Club, the place where Nelly Korda won her first major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, in 2021. Park and Pressel, along with 1970 U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion, Martha Kirouac, were honored by AAC’s historical preservation committee as the club, which will host the U.S. Girls Junior in 2025 and the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2035, announced that it will permanently display a replica of the Robert Cox trophy in its Hall of Champions.
“This is a very nice club,” Pressel said as she strolled the tudor clubhouse and admired the Bobby Jones memorabilia littered throughout. It was her first trip. Pressel had yet to become a full-time Golf Channel/NBC analyst when the KPMG came to town. Within minutes, she had met Dr. Bob Jones IV, the grandson of the club’s most famous member. “Wow, the history here is amazing,” Pressel said.
Because she lives about 30 minutes away, Park had played the Athletic Club many times. “This was where I played my last major,” she said with a wistful smile, referring to that KPMG.
“To date,” her sister-in-law, Helen Godfrey, added quickly.
“Yes, to date,” Jane said, the smile growing bigger. Then she pointed a thumb at Pete Godfrey, her husband, and his sister, Helen. “They’re sure I’ll be back.”
Helen has lived with Jane and Pete for the better part of a year to help care for the couple’s daughter, Grace. In the summer of 2021, while Jane was playing in the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, then 10-month-old Grace suffered a series of seizures that doctors now believe were caused by a virus. The now two-year-old suffered brain damage and requires fulltime care. Pete, who caddies for Hye-Jin Choi, will be on the bag again when the LPGA Tour resumes play in Thailand and Singapore. That leaves Jane, Helen, and a stream of family and friends to care for the precious child, who also came to the Athletic Club.
“Winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur was validation for me,” Park said. “In 2003 when I was 16 - and I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before – I made it the finals and lost to Virada Nirapathpongporn who was the reigning NCAA champion from Duke. I think she closed out the match on 16. As we were shaking hands afterward, Virada hugged me and said, ‘Next year is your year.’ At the time, I thought that was just a nice consolation thing to say.
“When I came back in 2004 – Virada had turned pro, thank goodness –and I won (the amateur at Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pennsylvania), I remembered that moment from the year before. That year, I’d finished runner-up in the U.S. Girls Junior, and I was having a stellar summer. Mentally, I think was ready for it and I stayed really strong throughout.”
Park beat Amanda McCurdy 2-up in the finals. She also played on two victorious Curtis Cup teams, the first in 2004 in Formby, England where Kirouac was the U.S. captain, and the second at Bandon Dunes in Oregon in 2006 on a team led by Carol Semple Thompson.
“I have both my red Curtis Cup jackets in the front closet of my house,” Park said. “I pull them out occasionally, maybe on Halloween, as kind of a flex.” When the laughter died down, she added, “Yeah, I did that.”
Pressel won the amateur in 2005 in suburban Atlanta at nearby Ansley Golf Club. “The thing people don’t realize is how much golf it takes to win a U.S. Amateur,” she said. “You play 36 holes of stroke-play to qualify for match-play. Then you have six matches. That’s a lot of high-pressure, high-intensity golf. But it means so much. The U.S. Women’s Amateur is like the sixth major. It’s the biggest event an amateur can win.”
Then she looked the trophy up and down once more. “I’m just so honored and happy to have had this as a centerpiece on our dining-room table for a year.”
There were a couple of funny moments. Park said, “The trophy came to our house in this huge case and when I opened it – I swear, it was this way when I opened it – the top was bent. So I called the USGA and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I broke the Robert Cox trophy.’ After some choice words, they said to ship it back, which I did, and they fixed it.
“Fast forward, I was in Pinehurst and I met the man from the USGA who repaired the damage. I said, ‘Hi, I’m Jane Park,’ and he pointed and said, ‘You’re the one who broke the Robert Cox trophy.’ So, yeah, I guess it’s good to be remembered for something.”
She is remembered for a lot more than that. Park, who had a successful but winless 15-year career on the LPGA Tour remains one of the most popular players in golf, while Pressel, who won twice, including the 2007 Chevron Championship, is the authoritative television voice of the women’s game.
“I have to tell you, the best untold sportsmanship story I know came out of that 2005 amateur,” USGA committeeman Gene McClure said after the event concluded and members were posing for pictures with the players. “And it wasn’t from the final match.
“Jane Park, the defending champion, played I.K. Kim in the quarterfinals. Both played great and it went 21 holes. I.K. Kim won with a birdie on the third extra hole. It was one of, if not the best match of the whole week.
“Immediately after the last putt dropped, the television cameras and reporters came running out. They stuck a microphone in I.K. Kim’s face and said, ‘What an incredible 21-hole match. How do you feel?’ And there was this look of panic. I.K. couldn’t speak any English at the time. So, Jane, the defending champion who had just played great golf and lost, came over and translated the entire interview for I.K. Kim.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s sportsmanship. That’s what our game is all about.”
About that time a commotion erupted in the center of the room. Helen had taken Grace out of her stroller and brought her forward. All attention turned away from the Robert Cox trophy and toward a far more beautiful gift. Pressel, who was rushing to the airport to catch a flight back to Boca Raton, stopped and cooed over the child. Time seemed irrelevant.
Pressel will be back on Golf Channel/NBC for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April and in the lead analyst role at the Chevron Championship. Park will go back home to Woodstock, Georgia to a routine of feedings and physical therapy.
As AAC members swooned over Grace, it became obvious that Gene McClure had it almost right. Life moves on, simple and dignified. That is what sportsmanship, and our game are all about.