Swing By This Classic Summer Event:|
The 2007 Safeway Classic
By Lisa Baker
How do you know you’re successful?
If you’re in business, maybe it’s the size of your pocketbook,
or the fact that everyone’s always asking you how you got to be
so successful. Your phone rings a lot. You feel pressed for time.
If you’re a premiere athlete, cereal boxes carry your name. People
stand next to you to have their pictures taken. Your routine tonsillectomy
is front-page news (which makes you ponder what would happen if you had
hemorrhoids). Your patience is stretched and your time is non-existent.
So far, Morgan Pressel — who in April at age 18 became the youngest
competitor to win a major in the Ladies Professional Golf Association
— is not yet a household name. There is no “Pressel Peanut
Butter Puffs,” and if she had a tonsillectomy, it probably wouldn’t
appear in the newspaper at all.
Even so, her time is already non-existent.
She figures she spends six months of the year camped in hotel rooms near
tournament sites. When she gets home to Boca Raton, Fla., there frequently
is a round of family events, parties and get-togethers waiting for her.
She’s barely arrived, it seems, when it’s time to repack.
“I’m always packing and unpacking,” she says.
A blog entry she wrote just after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship
in Rancho Mirage reveals just how difficult it is already becoming: “Right
now I am on a plane, as I usually am when I write these blogs (because
that seems to be the only free time I have), back home for a week off.
But I have a bad feeling that it is not going to be like a typical week
off. I’m already about ready to throw my phone at the wall because
it won’t stop ringing, and right when I go through 50 emails, I
have gotten 50 more.”
If the golf media have their way, there will be more of that.
They compare her, almost daily, to Michelle Wie, golf’s teen phenom
whom most folks — even non golf-aholics — have heard of.
But their growing, and often glowing, attention may only be partly a
reaction to Pressel’s prodigious skill. Some of it may be rooted
in the search to find a replacement for Wie as the young woman’s
golfing role model. Wie, who aside from having a rough year in which she
failed round after round to break par let alone win any tournament at
all, has lost fans among links boosters looking for genteel manners and
an engaging personality to go along with a good, strong drive off the
Wie, in the beginning a media darling, now appears to cause a ruckus
nearly everywhere she goes. She’s been criticized for firing a long
line of caddies, allegedly snubbing her pro-am playing partners, wearing
too-short skirts on the course, and — the latest — allegedly
faking a wrist injury in June to get out of a tournament in which she
was playing badly, badly enough that she would have been disqualified
from LPGA tournaments for the rest of the year.
Worse, golf commentators have implied that she is not the player she
appeared to be. Despite their early swoons over the length of her drive,
some now believe they were somehow deceived and that she is indeed not
Enter Pressel, the new favorite.
She first came to the fore in 2001, when at 12 she became the youngest
player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. In 2005, she was the
number one ranked junior player in the country.
Upon Pressel’s first professional victory in April, the golf world
exploded with superlatives, only some of them aimed at her actual golf
game. Pressel was called “articulate, attractive, young, and one
of the most marketable female athletes in the world … on the cusp
of superstardom.” One writer was inspired to proclaim, “A
Star is Born.”
So, what is it about Pressel that has prompted this outpouring?
Observers believe Pressel is the package the LPGA has been waiting for:
earthy, unassuming, family-oriented. She’s a girl who continued
to attend high school and earn excellent grades while transforming herself
into a golf star and managing in the process to win herself a golf scholarship
to Duke University. She lives with her grandparents, who travel with her
to every tournament and devote their lives to her success. And if that’s
not enough, golf wags looking for substance can always point to the fact
that the last book she read — according to her website — was
But there’s more to the Pressel movement.
There’s the ideal: the athlete who has endured tragedy and triumphed
Morgan Pressel’s mother died of cancer four years ago, long before
her daughter’s come-from-behind victory at the Kraft Nabisco. Interviewers
looking for character believe Pressel’s painful past might have
left her with the kind of heart often lacking in privileged teen sport
And so, a commentator for the website The Sand Trap puts it this way:
“There is also a softer side to Pressel. When she speaks of her
mother who passed away at a young age from a bout with breast cancer,
you can feel the genuine sorrow and anguish inside of the spunky kid.
I almost feel like crying.”
And while the golf elite would say “there’s no crying in
golf,” Pressel’s tears of frustration after missing a shot
that would have resulted in her pairing with top-of-the-sport Annika Sorenstam,
her hero, won her fans who found her despair moving — even adorable.
Adorable, however, has its limits.
Pressel has joined the growing backlash against Wie, declaring to Sports
Illustrated that the media’s initial fascination with Wie was more
about being “politically correct” than a reflection of Wie’s
true level of skill. “I don't believe in being politically correct,”
she declared. “Michelle hasn’t played a lot of junior golf,
so she hasn’t learned how to finish tournaments.”
When a media representative commented about the amount of press attention
attracted by Wie, Pressel bristled, according to Worldgolf.com: “I
was on the [sports] cover of the New York Times today,” Pressel
said, according to the report. “I was in the Boston Globe the other
In an interview with BrainstormNW, Pressel answered most questions with
an edge of impatience, but laughed when asked about the idea that she’d
recently read “Jane Eyre.” “Where does it say that?
I may have thumbed through it once.” Instead, she says, her favorites
are the Harry Potter books. Number five especially.
Although her website states that her Jewish religion is very important
to her, Pressel’s blog does not reveal thoughts or comments on faith.
Instead, it talks of music she downloads into her iPod, not having time
to get a manicure or a tan while on tour, and how it was her grandmother’s
idea to take the customary jump into the lake that surrounds the 18th
green after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Despite attempts to package her as something supernatural, Pressel sounds
like a typical teen, except for one thing: Her extreme drive to succeed,
to aim at the goal and then sprint directly toward it at breakneck speed.
She points out that while her peers spent high school attending parties
and sleepovers and are just now casting about for something to do with
their lives, Pressel says she’s been keyed to her goal since she
was 12 and working on it diligently every day, forgoing parties and sleepovers
and shopping mall trips that other girls enjoyed. “I was always
traveling and practicing and focusing on my golf,” she says. At
the same time, she says, she didn’t lament the time as lost. “I
don’t have that kind of personality,” she says.
It is that single-minded goal-seeking that prompted her decision to turn
down the Duke scholarship, which likely seemed the slow boat to success,
and petition for early entry to the LPGA.
While she calls all that has followed “overwhelming,” it is
the race to be run at the moment. “I know what I need to do,”
she says. “And I do it.”