Michaela Morard had just completed a 5-under 67 in the second round of the Girls Junior PGA Championship last Wednesday – in sweltering heat that felt over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity.
She was back in contention at the Country Club of St. Albans (Mo.), but Morard wasn’t thinking about that when she and her parents got in the car immediately after the round. Her father, Michael, had promised that he, Michaela and her mother, Elizabeth, would go to Red Robin if she broke 70 that day. Michaela wasn’t going to let dad forget it.
“The first thing we did, we got in the car, and she said, ‘We’re going to Red Robin,’ ” Michael said, with a laugh.
When you’ve had Michaela’s furious path in competitive golf, you’ve got to keep things light sometimes.
The 15-year-old has emerged in recent years as one of the top players in the Class of 2020, ranking second in the class when she committed to Alabama last year and currently finding herself sixth among that group.
Morard is already a three-time AJGA champion and a two-time Rolex Junior All-American. On the state level, Morard, of Huntsville, Ala., is a two-time Alabama state individual champion as well as a two-time winner of the Alabama Girls State Junior Championship.
It may not have been planned, but it was fitting Morard committed to Alabama last year at age 14.
Morard had visited several SEC schools but knew after touring Alabama she would play for the Crimson Tide. She didn’t wish to officially commit until she was a freshman, maybe even a sophomore, in high school.
The problem: Coaches from other schools didn’t know that. So they kept following her at tournaments.
“I just felt bad because I knew where I wanted to go,” Morard said.
So weeks later, Morard announced her decision – the eighth-grader declared she would be going to Alabama. Was it an early commitment? Sure, but Morard is used to doing things young in golf.
Morard first got into the game when she was 2 1/2 years old. She saw her father leaving the house every Saturday morning and wanted to tag along to wherever he was going.
Michael obliged one Saturday, bringing Michaela to his weekend spot – Valley Hill Country Club in Huntsville.
Michaela started putting, and dad figured she’d get bored pretty quickly. She was still practicing on the green 90 minutes later.
“I literally had to drag her off,” Michael said.
Two years later, head pro Jay McLelland allowed a 4-year-old Morard to take part in a Valley Hill clinic for those aged 6-12. She was the clear best player there.
“He was like, ‘That girl’s special,’ ” Michaela recalled.
She was off from there.
When Michaela was 7, her parents sought out places that would allow her to play two-day, 36-hole tournaments but struck out until Danny Rue gave Michaela the go to compete on his All-American Junior Golf Tour in Nashville.
The tour generally consisted of golfers aged 14-15, meaning Michaela would be up against players double her age. Was she intimidated?
Nope. The 7-year-old was so relaxed she often performed cartwheels in between shots.
“I didn’t really care what other people thought of me,” Michaela said. “I just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do.”
She proved her worth against the older kids, winning a good deal on the All-American Junior Golf Tour.
But Michaela wasn’t picking off every tournament. That was part of the point of her competing against older players.
“She learned how to lose,” Elizabeth said.
Not too often, though. Michaela managed to win two club championships (Valley Hill and The Ledges) as a 9-year-old and captured her two state titles in seventh and eighth grade.
While Michaela’s golfing prowess has meant a hectic schedule – so much so that Michael retired as CFO from the aerospace and defense company Elizabeth owns a year and a half ago so the couple could keep up with Michaela’s activities – the family has never been guilty of being too strict about the game.
The Red Robin promise is just one of many wagers between dad and daughter. Michael and Michaela often make such bets as fun incentives to post a good result.
“It’s kind of putting pressure on things, practicing situations where there is pressure,” Michaela said. “I’m used to things being on the line.”
Morard is likely to enter her Alabama years as one of the most well-rounded from this class, too. A separator for the 15-year-old is length. She is 5-feet-4-inches and weighs 120 pounds but generally rockets the ball some 260-280 yards – well past most of her competition.
That’s due to a strong core, acquired through several years of playing softball. Morard has played that sport since she was 4 years old, and after a couple-years hiatus returned to softball last spring and plans to play shortstop and pitch for Randolph School this upcoming season.
She also flourishes in the arts. Morard has taken to drawing since she was little, depicting flowers and yes, her fantasy wedding day, in her younger years.
“I know, it’s kind of nerdy,” Michaela said, with a smile.
More recently, Morard had some of her work picked for this year’s local Panoply Arts Festival. And after Rachel Heck, No. 2 in the Class of 2020 and one of Morard’s closest friends, won her first AJGA Invitational last month at the Rolex Girls Junior Championship, Morard set out to do something nice for the Stanford commit.
She began a pencil drawing of Heck and realized there was something there. Eventually, it turned into a pencil drawing of Heck teeing off at No. 1 at Rolex (played at Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, N.C.).
Morard plans to give Heck the finished drawing when they see each other in two weeks at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
That’s not all: Morard also possesses a robust singing voice. Last month at the AJGA’s KPMG Stacy Lewis Junior All-Star Invitational, Morard and friend Sadie Englemann (No. 5 in the Class of 2020) were hanging out one night when Englemann asked Morard if she could sing.
The Alabama girl said not really but then, with Englemann recording on video, proceeded to belt out a stirring rendition of “Hallelujah.”
“I was like, ‘What? You can sing, too? Dude, you’re good at everything!'” Englemann recalled saying.
It was so good that some friends who saw the footage told Morard she should go on “The Voice.” She’s far too modest to think about those aspirations, but her golfing ones certainly hold weight.
Morard won’t be at Alabama for a few years, and who knows what can happen in that period. She has yet to experience a significant slump in golf. Could she handle something like that if it were to come?
Probably so. Morard has been renowned for her on-course maturity ever since she started in the game.
During last week’s Girls Junior PGA, she five-putted from 6 feet in the middle of her opening round but never offered a hint of frustration.
“She picked up, walked off, and you couldn’t tell if she made a birdie or five-putted,” Michael said.
She’s tough, too. Michaela rarely gets sick but has been experiencing headaches, a runny nose and a sore throat since the beginning of the Junior PGA. At one point during the first round, she felt like she was about to faint.
She didn’t, rested after each round and persevered to a T-3 finish in high heat. Still under the weather this week at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, Morard managed her even-par 142 goal in stroke-play qualifying and cruised to the Round of 64 of match play as the No. 10 seed (she’ll face off Wednesday against Ivy Shepherd).
As Englemann notes, Morard is universally-liked on the junior circuit. But the nice Alabama girl can defend herself when necessary.
There were a few critics online when Morard committed to Alabama at such a young age: How can a 14-year-old know what she’s doing?
But Morard had it all mapped out: She plans to study some form of business, and Alabama boasts a renowned undergraduate business school.
She actually transferred from public schooling to the private Randolph School last year (she’s an incoming sophomore) in order to up her academic load and prepare her for college.
“So I did know what I was doing,” Morard said, with a chuckle.
There was also that one time in a tournament when a boy in the group ahead popped up a drive and his mom (and caddie) said, “Son, you hit that like a girl.”
Michaela simply turned to her own mom and commented, “He wishes.”
“I was laughing on the inside,” Elizabeth said. “It’s a good memory.”
Michaela proceeded to pound her next drive. Fitting, as the 15-year-old has never let anything get in her way.