With a 6-under-par 65 Friday, Pressel set the pace in the morning wave at Evian Resort Golf Club in France, climbing within one shot of South Korea’s Mi Hyang Lee (67). Lee’s at 9 under overall. Denmark’s Nicole Broch Larsen (67) is two shots back and China’s Shanshan Feng (68) three back.
Lee, 22, broke through to win her first LPGA title late last year, taking the Mizuno Classic in Japan. Larsen, 22, is a Ladies European Tour member who won her first title on that tour last week at the Helsingborg Open in Sweden. Feng, 26, won the LPGA Championship three years ago, the first of her four LPGA titles.
In a resurgent year, Pressel, 27, has been knocking hard on the door to her third LPGA title, her first since taking the Kapalua Classic in 2008. She has finished fifth or better six times this season. She lost the Swinging Skirts Classic in a playoff with Lydia Ko in April.
Pressel introduced herself to the golf world in a big way in major championships. She was 12 when she qualified to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open, turning 13 just before playing Pine Needles, making her the youngest player at that time to qualify for the championship. As a 17-year-old amateur, she tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, losing out when Birdie Kim holed out from a greenside bunker at the 72nd hole. Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco early in her second season as a professional, which still makes her the youngest winner of a women’s major. She was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old winning at Mission Hills.
Pressel made eight birdies and two bogeys in Friday’s round. She left an eagle putt just short at her last hole of the day.
“You can be aggressive out here and get rewarded if you're hitting it well, and if you hit your target,” Pressel said. “I'm going to go out there and see what tomorrow and Sunday gives me. Hopefully, it gives me some birdies.”
Pressel built her reputation playing her best on the game’s toughest tests. She lost some of the fearlessness of her youth battling through injuries that led to swing troubles a few years ago. She hurt her left thumb hitting out of the deep rough at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in 2012. The injury worsened as she played on, creeping into her wrist and up through her neck. The injuries caused changes in her swing, leading to a swoon.
Pressel’s finding her swing and her confidence in a resurgent run this year. She’s showing that in the majors. She was third at the ANA Inspiration in April, finishing one shot out of a playoff. She tied for fifth at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June and tied for fifth at the U.S. Women’s Open in July. Her run of strong play is timely for American golf with the United States set to take on Europe in Germany in the Solheim Cup next week.
Evian Resort, built on the side of a mountain, is primarily defended by its difficult greens, with humps and swales requiring exacting iron play, and with deceptive reads making putting tricky, courtesy of a mountain effect. Pressel was able to separate herself with strong iron play, knocking a lot of shots close in the second round. She took just 25 putts.
“You've got to be on this week, especially with your ball-striking, and I think that's why you see such a discrepancy in the scores,” Pressel said.
Pressel has been reworking her swing all season after reuniting with her coach, Ron Stockton, back in February. They had split a year ago, with Pressel going it alone the second half of last season. She says their work together has made a difference again, but so has a different mindset.
“I feel like my attitude is just a little bit different, a little bit better, and sometimes that can make all the difference,” Pressel said. “I mean, you can hit the ball well, but if you come unglued when one thing goes wrong, especially out here on this golf course . . . so I've tried to stay very positive. When bad breaks happen, just take them.”