2005: Women's Amateaur - Driving home her point

Roswell, Ga.

Morgan Pressel sent many messages with her march to victory at the 105th U.S. Women’s Amateur. It turns out her runner-up performance in June at the U.S. Women’s Open wasn’t even her best golf. Knocking off her peers, as she did in spectacular fashion at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course, has become a bit of a bore. No one intimidates this fiery 17-year-old, and at least last week, no one could touch her.

By the way, Pressel says she’d have taken down Michelle Wie, too, if she’d have shown up.

“I came here this week expecting big things of myself,” said Pressel while chomping on a Twix bar, a shiny medal draped around her neck. “It’s just been like a snowball effect. I just keep playing better.”

Who could argue? Over the course of 142 holes, Pressel poured in 47 birdies and one eagle for a combined total of 36 under par. In seven days of competition, Pressel didn’t have a single stretch of poor play. Her iron shots were freakishly precise and she made more than her share of clutch putts.

Pressel didn’t just beat Venezuela’s Maru Martinez on a rainy day in Georgia; she wore her down.

“It was like my body wasn’t responding the way I wanted it to,” said Martinez, who fell, 9 and 8, in the 36-hole final Aug. 7. “I can’t tell you what happened.”

Martinez, 21, looked alive throughout much of the morning session, but the Auburn senior came unraveled down the stretch, losing Nos. 16-18 to fall 4 down heading into lunch.

Thunderstorms allowed for an extended break, and when play resumed, Pressel went on to win seven of the next 10 holes.

“She kind of pooped out,” said Auburn coach Kim Evans of Martinez. “When she got through, she said ‘I’m almost glad it’s over.’ She’s beat.”

Settindown Creek uses a wooden rocking chair as a symbol. While Martinez looked like she could sit for a spell after Sunday’s final round, for the most part the miniature rockers that served as tee markers seemed somewhat out of place among a horde of a talented teens.

Which brings us to another message Pressel preached: There’s more where she came from.

“The average age of the quarterfinalists, I think I read in the paper, is 17.6,” said Pressel. (Actually, it’s 17.75, but who’s counting?)

“Hello, an 18-year-old age limit (for the LPGA) isn’t going to work. The good players are young. That’s just the way it is.”

Before teeing off in the quarterfinal round on Friday, Pressel sent an e-mail to LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw, in which she thanked him for changing his mind about allowing her to compete for official money the week of her 18th birthday (which falls on a Tuesday). She then used some brash, no-holds-barred language to chastise the commissioner, accusing him of “trumpeting junior players” while at the same time stifling their progress. A nervy e-mail for a 17-year-old.

Last month Votaw gave Pressel permission to play in this year’s LPGA Qualifying School at age 17, but said she couldn’t earn official money until she graduated high school and turned 18. Phooey, Pressel says. That puts her well behind the rest of the rookie class of 2006 in official money and Solheim Cup points.

“It’s contradictory,” said Pressel of Votaw’s decision. “I just said, ‘You know you’re promoting this youth movement and not letting anybody play.’ . . . I used an example with Maria Sharapova winning Wimbledon at 17. That certainly didn’t hurt women’s tennis.”

Pressel knows she’s good for the game. Fans know it, players know it, sponsors drool over it. It’s no wonder the outspoken teen can’t figure out why Votaw won’t let her join “the show” as soon as possible.

With one foot in the professional arena and one dragging behind in amateur golf, Pressel has faced the best of both worlds so far this year. And beaten nearly everyone.

Pressel is 3-for-3 in AJGA major competition, including an 11-stroke victory July 28 at the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship. She has finished inside the top 25 in five professional starts this season, including her impressive runner-up showing at the Women’s Open. The rout in Roswell was her second amateur title of the year. In January, she won the Harder Hall Invitational and was runner-up to Taylor Leon at the Doherty Championship.

Pressel, though an amateur, has enjoyed a few perks for her efforts. A pair of size-8 Adidas shoes she wore last week came from a gracious Natalie Gulbis. There’s also a Burberry purse waiting for Pressel at her Boca Raton, Fla., home. Gulbis wanted to give Pressel a little something for making her an extra $70,000 by finishing tied for second at the Open. (Gulbis tied for fourth but received more money because Pressel received none.)

With all that success, however, it’s still difficult to determine who the “it” girl of the summer is with Wie and Pressel going head-to-head only twice this year, at the LPGA Kraft Nabisco (point for Wie) and U.S. Women’s Open (point for Pressel). Her heart-breaking loss at Cherry Hills added more than a few fans to Pressel’s corner, but Wie’s taking on the PGA Tour also got a lot of folks talking.

Wie had an exemption into this year’s Amateur field but said she couldn’t catch a flight back from the Women’s British Open in time to compete. That didn’t stop The Golf Channel from running a promotional ad touting a Pressel vs. Wie showdown days after she’d withdrawn. It took four phone calls from USGA media officials to get the ad off the air.

“She doesn’t come and play in events where she can lose (and) hurt her marketability,” said Pressel of Wie’s absence. “In that sense, she’s done a great job.”

But even without Wie, there were plenty of junior stars. Thirteen players who advanced to match play at Settindown also had reached the round of 64 at the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks prior. The LPGA’s Jill McGill, who served as an on-course announcer for The Golf Channel, wore a Sesame Street T-shirt during the quarterfinal round, perhaps in honor of the seven remaining teenagers.

“The way these gals are playing, if you’re not making birdies you’re getting left,” said Pressel’s caddie, Sam Hinshaw. “It’s like watching a boxing match. There’s just body blows every other hole. It’s like ‘Ha, ha, made birdie, what are you gonna do?’ They’re relentless.”

In-Kyung Kim, winner of this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, looked like she might be the first to pull off a double victory after taking medalist honors with rounds of 68-71. Kim went on to oust defending champion Jane Park in the third round but suffered her first loss in the United States to Angela Park in the quarterfinals.

Pressel, who played nothing but teens on her road to the finals, faced her toughest match against 15-year-old Mina Harigae. The cool Californian matched Pressel with six birdies over 18 holes and never missed a fairway or green until the first playoff hole. Harigae drove the ball into the thick rough down the right side and topped her second shot 20 yards. Pressel escaped with an easy par and went on to face 14-year-old Jane Rah in the afternoon. Rah deflated In-Bee Park in the morning session but couldn’t keep up with a rock-solid Pressel.

“What can you say? It’s Morgan Pressel,” said Rah. “Her mentality is really strong. It’s like she’s in a bubble and no one can get into her head, really.”

While Pressel was pummeling teens, Martinez squared off against an eclectic mix, including past USGA champions Annie Thurman-Young (Women’s Amateur Public Links) and Virginia Derby Grimes (Mid-Amateur). In her third-round match against Grimes, Martinez clocked the former Auburn player and coach with a mind-boggling eight birdies in a dozen holes.

“When things are going right it’s just an indescribable feeling,,” said Martinez. “Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re doing.”

Unfortunately for Martinez, she couldn’t find “the zone” during an overcast final round. Margaret Shirley, an Auburn teammate who lives 10 minutes from Settindown, painted the faces of every Tiger fan she could find to bring a smile to Martinez’s face. Pressel likened the atmosphere to a college football game as the Auburn brethren rooted for the 5-foot-1 Martinez, aptly nicknamed “Rudy.”

With her father, Julio, on the bag and her mother and brother following close behind, it was a special week for Martinez. The close-knit family is together only a handful of times each year, and her eyes filled with tears as she thanked them during an emotional awards ceremony.

Martinez made a name for herself three years ago when she advanced to the semifinals of the Amateur, and she found the spotlight again in 2003 when she toppled Wie in the first round.

Pressel wouldn’t have minded a crack at the Big Wiesy this week, but liked her chances either way.

“Just because she’s not here doesn’t make this tournament any less satisfying,” said Pressel. “There are plenty of other good players that I had to beat this week. And I would’ve beat her just as well.”

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