Pressel a major talent with charm to match

 

MORGAN PRESSEL INTERVIEW: Philip Reidon the young American, already one of the world's top golfers, who is braodening her horizons by competing in the Irish Ladies Open at Portmarnock. 

YOU COULD be forgiven for thinking that someone who starts her day with a bowl of "Lucky Charms" - her favourite cereal - or lists "Nemo" as a favoured cartoon character still has some growing up to do. You'd be wrong. Morgan Pressel, just turned 20, is mature beyond her years.

Circumstances dictated the young golfing phenomenon had to grow up quickly; and, now, as one of the world's top women golfers, the American is broadening her horizons by competing in this week's AIB Irish Ladies Open at Portmarnock Links, starting on Friday. As always, her inherent competitive streak will see her tee off determined to add an international title to her curriculum vitae.

Where do you start with Morgan Pressel? Is it that she was the youngest player ever to make it through qualifying to play in a US Women's Open? She was 12! Is it that she was just 15 when her mother, Kathy, died of breast cancer . . . and, that, just over three years later - aged 18 years and 10 months - she became the youngest ever winner of a major, when winning the 2007 Kraft Nabisco championship?

On that day, if we didn't already know it, Pressel proved she was different. Part of the tradition at the Kraft Nabisco, dating back to Amy Alcott's solo dive in 1988, is the new champion plunges into the Champions' Lake by the 18th green. Pressel went one - or two - better, turning the celebration into a pool party by dragging her grandmother, Evelyn Krickstein, and her caddie, Jon Yarbrough, into the water.

If Tiger Woods is fond of the "W" word, so too is Pressel: winning is part of what makes her tick. Sure, she has a reputation for loving shopping. Most women do. Except, in her case, the shopping is as likely to be for somebody else: a friend, a relation.

When she was part of the winning United States team at last year's Solheim Cup in Sweden, Pressel took to giving team-mates gift-wrapped presents. "I loved the Solheim Cup. I made ribbons and little gift bags, it was great to be part of the team."

But, deep down, Pressel is a tough competitor. It's part of who she is. "I want to win every week," she says.

Sport is in her genes. Her uncle Aaron Krickstein was a professional tennis player but golf became Morgan's sporting passion. She started playing when she was eight, strongly influenced by her grandfather Herb, who took her down to the range and stood back a little amazed as his little grandchild effortlessly hit ball after ball. She was a natural.

Pressel became a dominant player on the American junior circuit, going on to win 11 tournaments but, perhaps most notably of all, qualifying for the US Women's Open that time when she was just 12 years of age.

That was 2001. Then, in 2003, tragedy struck the family when Morgan's mother died of breast cancer. She moved in with her grandparents and Herb became a guiding influence on her life, not just her golf.

In 2005, she won the US Women's Amateur and very nearly won the US Women's Open, finishing runner-up to Birdie Kim, who holed out with a bunker shot on the 18th to finish a stroke ahead of Pressel.

By year's end Pressel had turned professional, won a card at the LPGA qualifying school and, after graduating from high school the following May, joined the LPGA Tour full-time. Now, she's one of the most personable and permanent fixtures on a tour that has shed its old, stuffy image and is seen as a young, vibrant circuit with exceptional golfers.

Following her major win in 2007, Pressel moved into the world's top five for the first time. Now ranked 15th, she has as one of her goals to move back toward that number one spot - "That's my ultimate goal," she confesses - currently occupied by Lorena Ochoa, and she sees playing in such places as Ireland this week as part of the role the very top players have to perform in bringing women's professional golf to a global market.

For sure, Portmarnock Links - where Pressel is one of the star names - will provide a quite different challenge for the player whose only previous experiences of links golf came when competing in the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and over the Old Course at St Andrews in the past couple of years.

"I'm looking forward to playing Portmarnock, I've heard a lot about the course," she says. "I've heard it's a great course and I'm really excited.

"There's a big difference with links golf and there is a lot of guesswork involved . . . but it is great to be able to travel. Women's golf is becoming more popular and travelling to play in events like the Irish Open will help the game's popularity."

On learning the designated charity for this week's tournament is for breast cancer, Pressel remarks: "That's fantastic, I'm very much involved in that . . . it's a great cause."

In fact, Pressel organised her own fundraising tournament in her home town of Boca Raton in Florida - called the Morgan and Friends Fight Cancer tournament - earlier this year and raised almost €320,000, while Ralph Lauren - one of her sponsors - produced a special line of women's golf clothing with proceeds going to support cancer charities.

On the impact of her mother's death when Morgan was just 15, Pressel reveals, "Yes, I had to grow up quickly and it was important to do so at such a young age. You have to go with it."

And, at the time of her major win, Pressel - having broken into tears - paid tribute: "I know my mother will always be with me . . . and I'm sure she's proud of me."

Pressel was 18 years, 10 months and nine days old when she won that major, the youngest woman in history. The youngest man to win a major was Young Tom Morris, who was 17 when he captured the 1868 British Open.

And, although she hasn't won a second major - yet - Pressel has a determination and drive that make her one of the top players and one more likely than not to make an even greater impact on the women's game in the years to come.

She's part of an exciting new generation of players, among them her fellow-Americans Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer, a bevy of Koreans - one as good as the next - and an emerging group of young Europeans, led by Norway's Suzann Pettersen and Sweden's Maria Hjorth (who are also in the field at Portmarnock this week).

Of her current form, Pressel says: "I've had some rough times this season and some good times, and that's kind of what (happens)

. . . at the end of the season you look back and you'll have some high points and some low points, but lately I've definitely been playing a lot better than I was at the beginning of the season.

"I think that what happened earlier this year is I was really working hard to try to change my swing a little bit in the off season, and because of that, I stopped working quite as hard (on the short game).

"I mean I just didn't practise as much short game as I would have liked, but I did work a lot on my putting and chipping and bunker play and things like that. After the first missed putts, I realised that that was really my problem, and I tried to work a lot harder on that . . . if I just missed a green and got in the fringe, I'd make bogey instead of a routine up-and-down (or) maybe even a chip-in birdie.

"Those are things that can ruin the momentum in the round and get you started going the other way . . . I just took my focus off the scoring side of my game."

That's what you get with Pressel, a refreshing honesty; and a feistiness on the course as she seeks to add another "W" to her impressive roll-of-honour. Expect more of the same at Portmarnock Links this week.

Of her on-course personality, where she will vocally encourage the ball to do her bidding, Pressel remarks: "It's just my personality. I don't know if it helps or hurts or any of that, it's just the way that I react, not just in my golf game, but to everything . . . you know, I'm not going to bottle myself up just because I'm out here in front of people, and that's it."

Morgan Pressel Factfile

Height:5ft 5ins

Age:20

Rookie year:2006

Majors:One (2007 Kraft Nabisco)

Career-low round:64

LPGA career holes-in-one:2

Solheim Cup:1 (2007)

LPGA Record:

2005 Cuts Made - 7 Best Finish - T2nd

2006Cuts Made - 21 Best Finish - 3rd

2007Cuts Made - 23 Best Finish - 1st

What you might not know . . .

Morgan Pressel's iPod has 600 songs, "everything from pop to hip-hop to alternative" . . . her idols growing up were Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam . . . if she weren't a professional golfer, she would likely have pursued a career in medicine.