Ten years ago, starry-eyed amateur Morgan Pressel could just about feel her hands on the U.S. Women’s Open Championship Trophy.
She could nearly picture changing the history books, becoming the first amateur since Catherine Lacoste in 1967 to win the national championship.
But that was before Birdie Kim holed out a bunker shot on the 18th green at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado to win the 2005 Women’s Open. That bunker blast reduced the tenacious teen to tears and dropped her into a tie for second with fellow American amateur Brittany Lang when Pressel bogeyed the 72nd hole.
“A lot has happened in the last 10 years,” said Pressel, 27, now married and a two-time champion on the LPGA Tour. “[Kim’s shot] was one of those things – it wasn’t my week. You lose more than you win out here.”
Pressel turned that disappointment into a spark one month later at another national championship. She won the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur, 9 and 8, over Maru Martinez at Ansley Golf Club in Roswell, Ga. It was a dominant day that included Pressel holing out a shot from the fairway for eagle.
Armed with those results in 2005, Pressel requested permission from the LPGA Tour to compete in its annual qualifying tournament at age 17. The teen tied for sixth at that event to earn full LPGA membership for 2006.
By the spring of 2007, just shy of her 19th birthday, Pressel found herself in the right place at the right time. Tournament leader Suzann Pettersen struggled in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship – the first LPGA major championship of the season, held at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. When Pettersen carded a 2-over 74 on the last day, this time, Pressel walked away with the hardware after a closing round of 69.
She would follow that win with a second LPGA Tour victory in 2008 at the Kapalua LPGA Classic. But in spite of 54 career top-10 finishes and earnings of more than $6 million, Pressel has not been able to notch a win in seven years.
She has struggled with a wrist injury, and she has wrestled with her swing, accompanied by the resulting peaks and valleys in confidence. Pressel calls that period of her career “both mentally and physically challenging.”
“I battled some injuries and that was challenging for a couple of years,” she said at a recent LPGA tournament. “Those were definitely my worst years I had on tour. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t played through them and [had] healed before I tried to continue to play.”
But those trying days have faded and Pressel enters this week riding a wave of steady golf in recent weeks on the LPGA Tour. Even though she still ices a wrist that occasionally causes concern, she has learned that more practice is not better practice.
Currently No. 21 in the Rolex Rankings, Pressel has posted four top-10 finishes among a total of seven top 20s this season.
That midseason resurgence followed a shaky start. Pressel missed the 36-hole cut in the tour’s season opener and posted nothing better than a tie for 33rd in her first four events, but by the time she got back to Mission Hills Country Club for the ANA Inspiration (formerly the Kraft Nabisco), she was ready. She finished third in the desert and remained among the top 18 in four of the LPGA’s next five events, including a tie for fifth in the season’s second major, the KPMG Women’s PGA.
“I got off to a rough start, but then I called up my old swing coach [Ron Stockton] ... and said, we need to start working again,” she said.
That work, so far, is paying off. Pressel hopes it will serve as the unshakable foundation for strong finishes in the LPGA’s final three majors, including this week’s Women’s Open.
“At this point in my career, I kind of center my schedule and my preparation around major championships,” she added. “I prepare mentally differently.”
That said, the niece of former world-ranked tennis player Aaron Krickstein has never lacked motivation or ambition. When breast cancer took the life of her mother, Kathy Krickstein Pressel, in 2003, Pressel began thinking of ways to do something – anything – to draw public attention to breast cancer, to fight back.
Once she turned professional and began earning prize money, she launched a charity golf tournament to benefit Boca Raton (Fla.) Regional Hospital and Sylvester Cancer Center. To date, she has raised more than $4 million through the Morgan Pressel Foundation to fund cancer awareness and treatment.
She also married Andy Bush in early 2013, settling into a noticeably more relaxed phase of her professional life.
Pressel can’t “pinpoint one thing” that is working in her game this year, but she points to life off the course for helping her achieve better personal balance and better on-course results.
“I’m just happier on the golf course,” she said. “I know that sounds kind of silly, but sometimes it’s as simple as that.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.