After she coaxed in a tricky, downhill 6-foot birdie putt at the final hole, her smile could have illuminated half of the metropolitan Rochester region.
It’s a smile Pressel fans should have been pleased to see with Pressel closing out a 4-under-par 68 and temporarily seizing the lead on a brutish Locust Hill Country Club course. Yes, it’s just the first round, Pressel understands that, but the burst of brilliance amid the gloom that hung in more than the air was a tonic.
For a year, Pressel has been struggling with her game, and it all dates back to this event a year ago.
Pressel, 25, hurt her left wrist playing in the brutish rough at Locust Hill in the 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship. She said it wasn’t one swing that hurt her, that it was a malady which worsened with all the shots she had to muscle out of the cabbage-like rough here.
The two-time LPGA winner is looking to rebuild her game and confidence and make her fourth U.S. Solheim Cup team.
With four birdies to close her round, Pressel is off to a good start to a critical run of six summer events leading to Solheim Cup qualification. At day's end, she was tied with Jiyai Shin for second, one shot behind Chella Choi.
“Mentally, I think Morgan is in the best place she has been in a long time,” Pressel’s coach, Ron Stockton, said.
Stockton actually said that Wednesday after Pressel’s pro-am round.
On Friday, Pressel flashed the talent that helped her jolt the golf world by becoming the youngest winner of a major championship. She was 18 when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Six years have passed since then, and so much has happened in her life. There was last year’s injury, the struggles that came when pain led to bad swing habits. There was her wedding in January, a life-changing event she said makes her very happy.
In Friday’s round, Pressel found a happy place in her game again.
“I've struggled with my wrist since I played here last year, and it took a while to overcome that,” Pressel said. “It took a while to really want to play golf again, and enjoy playing golf again, and I feel like I'm in a better place.”
It showed Friday.
Pressel, never long, but always one of the most accurate drivers on tour, hit 10 fairways in the first round, a vital stat given the nasty rough here. Her short game and putting were sharp, too. She toured the course in 23 putts.
It wasn’t lost on Pressel that U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon was in the gallery watching portions of her round.
“The three Solheim Cup teams I’ve been on have been the highlight of my career,” Pressel said. “It’s my goal this year, for sure. There have been times when it has kept me from playing better, because I've been so worried about it, so I'm trying to just go out and play my game and not worry about it so much. If I go out and try to win, then I'm thinking, it will take care of itself.”
Pressel was 4-0 in the American Solheim Cup loss in Ireland two years ago. She’s 7-2-2 overall in her three Solheim Cups, but she has work to do to qualify for the team on points. She’s 15th on the U.S. Solheim Cup points list and needs to be among the top eight by the conclusion of the Ricoh Women’s British Open to automatically qualify. She’s fourth on the U.S. Solheim Cup world rankings list and needs to be among the top two to qualify off it.
Making a fourth Solheim Cup team became harder work after the wrist injury. Pressel said doctors diagnosed the injury as intersection syndrome, a ligament and joint malady caused by repetitive action.
Pressel felt an ache in her wrist during last year’s Wegmans LPGA Championship. It worsened through the tournament and got so bad she withdrew in her next event in Arkansas and withdrew again in the U.S. Women’s Open the week after that. She followed those WDs up missing four consecutive cuts.
All the while, Pressel’s swing changed to protect the wrist.
Stockton didn’t want her playing injured, but he couldn’t stop her.
“Morgan doesn’t stop,” Stockton said. “That’s not in her makeup, but it was a learning experience.”
Morgan’s woes spilled into this season with just one top-10 finish in 10 starts. Even with missed cuts, Stockton could see her game and confidence coming around.
“Morgan’s hitting it well, and she has the game to suit this golf course,” Stockton said. “She likes tough golf courses.”
Pressel finished second in the Wegmans LPGA Championship two years ago.
Mallon wondered how Pressel might respond to her return to Locust Hill, where the rough’s even deeper and thicker than last year.
“This shows how mentally strong she is,” Mallon said. “She could have gone out and been afraid to play today. Instead, she went out and played great golf.”
As a player, Mallon said, Pressel is a lot like another Solheim Cup warrior.
“She’s just a grinder and a fighter,” Mallon said. “She’s Rosie Jones reincarnated, the kind of player you like on your team.”
Pressel will try to make that happen over the next two months.
American Solheim Cup standings (top eight qualify):
|1. Stacy Lewis||783|
|2. Cristie Kerr||488|
|3. Paula Creamer||420|
|4. Angela Stanford||297|
|5. Brittany Lincicome||215|
|6. Lexi Thompson||205|
|7. Jessic Korda||190|
|8. Lizette Salas||168|
|9. Brittany Lang||167|
|10. Jennifer Johnson||153|
|11. Gerina Piller||150|
|12. Katie Futcher||116|
|13. Michelle Wie||112|
|14. Nicole Castrale||104|
|15. Morgan Pressel||101|
*The top 20 places in an LPGA event are awarded points with 60 points for first place, 30 for second, 28.5 for third and all the way down to three points for a 20th-place finish. Points are doubled in the majors.
American Solheim Cup world rankings standings (top two qualify):
1. Brittany Lang (No. 49)
2. Jennifer Johnson (No. 54).
3. Gerina Piller (No. 56).
4. Morgan Pressel (No. 68).
*Two captain's picks will fill out the American squad.