OCALA, FLORIDA | As debuts go, it was as close to a home run as the game has had in some time. No, I’m not talking about the inaugural Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, a fine course about an hour northwest of Orlando and in a rolling part of the world with more horse farms than Florida has Waffle Houses.
The first round of the new event went better than expected, including chamber-of-commerce weather (70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky) and a leaderboard that included a couple of Kordas (the hottest players on the planet at the moment), Jennifer Kupcho and the always-friendly Austin Ernst. As good as that opening might have been – and it was near flawless – it came in second to the inauguration of the game’s newest broadcasting star who called the action in Ocala for Golf Channel.
Morgan Pressel sounded like she’d been working in television for a decade. The ease of the banter, the quick insights, the casual rhythm of her comments and the profound nuggets she gave the audience were reminiscent of some of the best of all time – Ken Venturi in his heyday, Johnny Miller before he got mean. She might even have given an early Peter Alliss a run for his money.
“She had the attitude of a rookie and the poise of a veteran.” – Grant Boone
“It went OK, pretty well,” Pressel said after the LPGA Tour broadcast ended on Thursday. “I’m very self-critical. That’s the golfer in me. There were a few times when what was in my mind didn’t quite match what came out of my mouth. But, overall, it was OK.”
That is exactly why Pressel will be successful in this second act of a career that included a major championship victory and six Solheim Cup appearances. She has always been a perfectionist and a grinder, someone who got more out of herself than others thought possible. Never gifted with extraordinary length or height or speed, she has been one of the most popular figures on tour for 16 years, in part because of her intellect but also because of her grit.
Watch her get outdriven by 40 yards a few times and you wonder how she competed. Then consider that she was ranked in the top 60 in the world for 13 years and you realize that she has the kind of steely-eyed toughness needed to make it in the cutthroat world of television where your friends will shake your hand while stabbing you in the back.
“You know, being on the other side of the camera for a long time (as a player) I’ve had the opportunity to dabble a little bit in television,” she said.
That time included Fox’s digital coverage of the U.S. Women’s Open where she was the lead analyst. She also shadowed Jerry Foltz last December at the CME Group Tour Championship in anticipation of this move.
“I’m excited to see the production behind the scenes, see everything that goes into showcasing our sport and to be a part of the production,” Pressel said.
“She had the attitude of a rookie and the poise of a veteran,” Grant Boone said of Pressel’s debut on Thursday. Boone sat next to Pressel in the booth in Ocala, as he will several other times throughout the year. She will provide Golf Channel analysis at both LPGA Tour and PGA Tour events in 2021, including the U.S. Women’s Open, the Amundi Evian Championship and the Solheim Cup, where she will most likely be a future captain.
Pressel will also provide analysis March 18-21 during the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic.
She will continue to play on tour, which could be a challenge.
“That’s the thing I hope she’s able to work out,” said Ernst, who was thrilled for her friend. “But she’ll figure it out. I just think it’s great to have a fresh face, a new perspective. And there’s nobody better at providing that than Morgan.”
People forget that Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo continued to compete during their early days in television. So did Curtis Strange and Lanny Wadkins.
“Out here, especially, I know a lot of the players. I’ve competed against them for a long time, I know their games,” Pressel said. “So, I’m excited to talk about that as well as try my hand at a little bit of men’s golf upcoming at the Honda Classic. That will be a little bit of a different challenge, maybe take a little bit more homework. But I’m a golf fan, so I’m going to approach it as a fan watching at home like everybody else.”
Both the fan and the friend showed up on Thursday. As Kupcho was making a run up the leaderboard, Pressel let the viewers know that she was Kupcho’s “big sister” when the youngster joined the tour in 2019. Pressel then explained that the LPGA Tour creates pods of retired players and current veterans to mentor rookies through their first year. It was no more than a 30-second story. But it was everything you want from a lead analyst – informative, interesting, quick and relevant.
Then, after bragging about Kupcho’s length, Pressel appeared surprised and a little disappointed when the first-round co-leader chose to lay up on the par-5 18th. That was the fan coming out. Pressel wanted to see the risky play as much as anyone else.
That balance will serve her well, this week, next and, hopefully, for many television years to come.
“She has been on big stages for 20 years,” Boone said. “I think it shows.”
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