CARLSBAD, CALIFORNIA | The number makes you stop and do a double take. Can it really be 250 starts since Morgan Pressel last won a tournament? Seeing her name on the leaderboard at the Kia Classic made me do the math and even I found the results surprising – and I’ve covered her entire career.
When Pressel, then 18, became the youngest major championship winner in LPGA history at the 2007 ANA Inspiration – a record since broken by Lydia Ko – and backed it up with a win in Hawaii the next year, it appeared as if the sky was the limit. Instead, she hit a ceiling a couple years ago.
But there was Pressel, with her 31st birthday approaching in May, lurking in third place after an opening-round 68 at the Kia, giving her legion of fans reason to smile. Chatting with her, it’s clear that while she’s working as hard as ever on her game, that is only a part of her very satisfying life.
There is so much more to Morgan than golf. There is her husband, Andy Bush, an executive with the D.C. United professional soccer team who worked with the golf management company Octagon when they met and married in 2013. There is her puppy Zoe, a mini-English Goldendoodle they’ve had since August and is adored.
“The last couple of years have been hard, but I think it is swing issues and we are working them out. This is the best it has been in a long time.” – Morgan Pressel
And there is the Morgan Pressel Foundation, which, for the 12th consecutive year, raised money for breast cancer research, treatment, awareness and screening with the help of some LPGA buddies at the Morgan & Friends Tournament hosted in January by St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla.
This is a personal crusade for Pressel as well as a public mission. She lost her mother, Kathy, to breast cancer in 2003 and since turning pro in 2006 has dedicated her success and celebrity to eradicating the disease, raising in excess of $8.5 million through her foundation.
“This is for my mother,” Morgan says outside the bag room at Aviara Golf Club. “It’s a way of keeping her memory alive. If she were here today, I know she’d be right there with the rest of us fighting for others. My extended family at St. Andrews and the LPGA have been phenomenal in supporting this effort.”
Another part of the stability in Pressel’s life is her caddie, Barry “Rock” Cesarz, who has been on her bag since 2009, an ice age when it comes to player-caddie relationships. They interact with a good-natured needling that eases the pressure of life on tour.
“Ok, take some video and pretend like you are working,” Morgan says to Rock on the range.
“There are times they are just so mad at you,” says Cesarz about the complicated dynamic between player and caddie. “But the thing you have to remember is that the back of my shirt doesn’t say ‘Rock’ or ‘Cesarz.’ It says ‘Pressel.’ ”
Throughout her life Pressel has been ahead of the curve. In 2001, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at 12 – then a record. As a 17-year-old amateur, she was poised for a playoff and maybe a win at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills when Birdie Kim, playing in the group ahead, holed a bunker shot on the final hole to win.
That was a magical year for Pressel. She played seven LPGA tournaments and made the cut in all of them with a stroke average of 70.96. She also won the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur and finished her amateur and junior career as the Rolex Girls Junior Player of the Year.
Still only 17, Pressel earned her card for the 2006 LPGA season by finishing sixth at Q-School and was granted an exemption to the 18-year-old age limit because she was turning 18 in May and played a limited schedule until she graduated high school that month.
Right from the get-go, Morgan proved she belonged, making 21 of 23 cuts in 2006 with three top-10s. After that ANA victory in 2007, she hit a high of No. 4 in the Rolex Rankings and qualified for the U.S. Solheim Cup team, playing five consecutive competitions through 2015 with a 10-7-2 record, including 4-1-0 in singles.
Since her last win at Kapalua in October 2008, Pressel has finished second seven times and third on five other occasions. In 2015, she was third in the ANA and T-5 in the U.S. Women’s Open and KPMG Women’s PGA. She also lost a playoff on the second extra hole to Lydia Ko at the 2015 Swinging Skirts and was second twice in 2016. So close so many times.
“I feel like I’m making progress,” Morgan says about her game, which she has been working on with instructor Martin Hall. “The last couple of years have been hard, but I think it is swing issues and we are working them out. This is the best it has been in a long time.”
Vibrant, vivacious and a bit volcanic, Pressel is a fan favorite. More than ever, you get the feeling she defines victory in complicated ways, playing for the love of the game and for what her position as a pro can do to help fight breast cancer. That makes her a true winner, no matter what numbers appear in the record book or on the scorecard.
There is more to Morgan Pressel than golf, including a love for her mini-English Goldendoodle, Zoe. Photo: Donald Miralle, Getty Images
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