Pressel goes from prodigy to mentor

By Randall MellJuly 10, 2015, 12:11 am

LANCASTER, Pa. – Morgan Pressel is playing her 13th U.S. Women’s Open.

Yeah, she can’t get her head around it, either.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that she marched onto the grandest stage in women’s golf as a 13-year-old at Pine Needles, the youngest player at that time to qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open. With a blond ponytail bobbing out of the back of her cap, with hazel eyes and a mouth full of tinny braces, she made her entrance back then with the poise of a child star. A small swarm of photographers were in tow the first time she stepped on the range that week in North Carolina.

At 27, Pressel still commands a special place on the U.S. Women’s Open stage.

You see it in the eyes of so many of the young amateurs who’ve made it here. They all seem to know Pressel, even though many of them were too young to actually remember if they watched her play her first U.S. Women’s Open in 2001.

Of course, Pressel’s victory at the 2007 Kraft Nabisco also makes her relevant to today’s youth. Pressel became the youngest winner of a major championship with that victory at Mission Hills.

Japan’s Suzuka Yamaguchi is the youngest player in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. She was 14 years, 11 months and 10 days old on Thursday. She was just 8 months old when Pressel played Pine Needles. Still, Yamaguchi wanted to play a practice round with Pressel this week.

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So did Kristen Gillman, the 17-year-old U.S. Women’s Amateur champion.

And Nikki Long, the 19-year-old sophomore to be at the University of Texas at San Antonio. And 18-year-old Sam Wagner, who’s headed to the University of Florida as a freshman.

Pressel played with all of them in her practice rounds at Lancaster Country Club this week. And she relished the memories it brought back.

“That was me,” Pressel said. “I was one of those young whippersnappers, and now I’m the old lady in the crowd. I don’t feel that way, but it’s starting to become that way, whether I feel that way or not.”

Actually, Pressel played like a woman coming into her prime Thursday at the U.S. Women’s Open. She opened with a 2-under-par 68, getting herself in early contention. She made a hard run at winning the season’s opening major, missing out on a playoff by a shot at the ANA Inspiration. She tied for fifth at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship a month ago. She’s back on her game, back playing her best in the game’s toughest tests.

Pressel forged her identity at the U.S. Women’s Open as a teen phenom. It wasn’t just her debut as a 13-year-old. She qualified again as a 15-year-old at Pumpkin Ridge and made the cut, and then she nearly won the championship as a 17-year-old at Cherry Hills. She tied for second there with Birdie Kim beating her with an improbable hole out from a bunker at the last hole.

With 30 teenagers in the field this week, Pressel can’t help but be reminded.

“I think it’s special,” Pressel said. “One of the things that make this event unique is all the amateurs that do get the opportunity. I had such incredible experiences, and I remember trying to sign up with as many players as I could in practice rounds.”

An adoring Yamaguchi was so thankful for the chance to play with Pressel, she presented her with gift of Japanese chocolate sticks.

“They were all really excited to play,” Pressel said. “That was cool. I don’t feel like they should be that excited to play with me.”

Brooke Henderson didn’t play a practice round with Pressel this week, but the 17-year-old phenom called Pressel her idol when they played together at the Swinging Skirts Classic earlier this year.

“Morgan makes time for the younger girls,” her caddie, Barry “Rock” Cesarz, said. “One girl told Morgan that she’s her favorite player of all time.”

The interactions remind Pressel when she mingled with her idols that first year at Pine Needles.

“One of the biggest things I remember was sitting in the locker room at Pine Needles in a rain delay,” Pressel said. “I just didn’t want to leave. Here were all these people I watched on TV for so long, and I wanted to talk to them as long as I could. I sat in there for hours. My parents were like, `Let’s go, let’s go home’ and I’m `No, I want to sit here and talk.’

“It’s crazy to think that I'm the baby-sitter now. Everyone was baby-sitting me back in the day.”

Pressel knows the young amateurs here this week may have life changing experiences meeting their idols. Sitting in that locker room at Pine Needles changed Pressel’s life.

“That was the time I made a commitment that golf was it for me,” she said.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.