RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Morgan Pressel was paired with an amateur named Stacy Lewis the day she won the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship at age 18. Lewis was a 22-year-old college hotshot at the time, but relatively unknown compared to the precocious Pressel.
“I honestly probably felt about the same age,” said Lewis, who finished fifth that week. “I think she was pretty much a rookie and I felt like a rookie. But she definitely had more experience, and she was kind of telling me stories about this place.”
Lewis, now 30 and the undisputed leader among the Americans, finds herself squarely in the hunt for another major title at what’s now known as the ANA Inspiration, four strokes behind rookie Sei Young Kim of South Korea, who leads at 7-under 137.
It’s Pressel, however, who is showing the familiar fans of Missions Hills some of the spark that made her the youngest major champion in LPGA history eight years ago.
Now 26, Pressel had her husband, Andy Bush, and longtime instructor Ron Stockton walking outside the ropes on a gorgeous day in the desert. Friday was more of a struggle for Pressel, who followed that sparkling 67 with an even-par 72. Stockton said Pressel “put on her boxing gloves” in the second round, a fight that kept her at 5 under and in fine position headed to the weekend.
Anyone who has followed Pressel knows that she’s bright. She’s a tinkerer and a thinker and to quote her, someone who can “get as technical as possible out there.”
Last summer, Pressel parted ways with Stockton after the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, citing the need to get a sense of her own swing.
“The best players, you have to find your own way,” said Stockton, who began working with Pressel at this event in 2009. “You can’t just follow direction and take someone else’s way.”
So for the first time since age 8, Pressel played golf without an instructor.
“I just think that I gained quite a bit of feel,” said Pressel of the nine-month experiment. “I think even though my swing wasn’t mechanically sound, I found a way to get the ball down the fairway.”
Pressel called it “golf course self-correction,” and when she phoned Stockton three weeks ago and asked to him to begin Act II of their relationship, she felt better equipped to put new ideas into play. Plus, she shot 76 in Singapore on Sunday and had “no idea where the golf ball was going” early in the season.
Stockton, who considers Pressel to be like a little sister, went to work on getting her swing back on plane. He told her it would take two months to get where they needed to go, but they were going to tackle one “feel” at a time.
“What’s happened in the past is we’ve started with one and it has blurred into another,” said Stockton. “Really proud of her for sticking to her guns the last two or three weeks and not adding anything else.”
Stockton called the change dramatic, and said when done properly, Pressel feels like she’s waving to the crowd with her right hand during her backswing.
Pressel labored early on Friday, but said her approach shots into the last four holes enabled her to walk off the golf course feeling better about her swing.
The one-time prodigy and frequent record-setter hasn’t won since 2008. But a grown-up Pressel is hitting it to places she’s never seen in 10 years of playing the Dinah Shore Course, and still has that combination of heart and hunger that can’t be taught.
“You know, I remember (2007) because it played so hard,” said Lewis, “and she just hung around and she hung around, and that’s who Morgan is. She’s a grinder. She’s not going to go out there and wow you with anything, but she’s going to just keep hanging around.”