PARKER, Colo. (AP) – It’s a quick ride down the highway from this week’s Solheim Cup to where Morgan Pressel introduced herself to America.
Eight years ago this summer, she was a 17-year-old amateur, a childhood prodigy from a blue-blood sporting family, who found herself a few good shots away from a playoff at the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills.
A virtually unknown player named Birdie Kim stole away that dream, holing out for – what else? – a birdie with a once-in-a-lifetime shot from the greenside bunker on No. 18.
Squinting into the sunlight, watching the scene play out up ahead, Pressel saw the ball drop. “It was like, ‘I can’t believe that actually just happened,'” Pressel said that day, the last of that week’s waterfall of tears still pooling below her eyes.
More accomplished and more composed in 2013 than 2005, Pressel is one of America’s top players at the Solheim Cup, which begins Friday at Colorado Golf Club.
She brings a 7-2-2 career record into this, her fourth meeting against the Europeans. In 2011, she went 4-0.
“I love match play. I love the Solheim Cup. I love playing out here,” Pressel said.
One of the surest signs that the healing was complete from that 2005 shock came two years later. First, Pressel captured her first major, becoming the youngest winner of a Grand Slam tournament when she took advantage of a collapse by Suzann Pettersen to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
A few months later, in Halmstad, Sweden, Pressel made her Solheim Cup debut, beating none other than Annika Sorenstam on Sorenstam’s home turf in an American singles romp on the final day.
“Nobody had many expectations for me, so I was able to just go out there and play my game and was able to come out on top,” Pressel said.
Now preparing for her fourth Solheim Cup, Pressel, the niece of former top-10 tennis player Aaron Krickstein, is a wily veteran at 25. She has more Solheim experience than every American but Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr and Angela Stanford. Her .727 winning percentage is best on the U.S. team.
Pressel insists the heartbreak at Cherry Hills rarely enters her mind and she has never watched a replay.
“I don’t know how I reconciled it,” she said. “I just kept playing. I felt like I was close and I’d have more chances in my life, eventually, after I got over the disappointment of it.”
At the British Open this year, she faced a different sort of final-day pressure.
Struggling with an injured thumb that sent her down the rankings in 2012, Pressel needed a good finish to earn the last automatic spot on Meg Mallon’s team. After holding the 54-hole lead, Pressel finished tied for fourth and got the spot.
Odds are, she would have been making the trip to the Denver area this week either way.
“I told Meg, she needs to be a pick” if she doesn’t qualify through her ranking, said Brittany Lincicome, also making her fourth Solheim Cup appearance. “Solheim would not be the same without Morgan here.”
Asked what she brings to the U.S. team, which is trying to stay undefeated in matches played in the United States, Pressel modestly replied: “Hair ribbons and tattoos,” speaking to her unofficial role as the team’s red-white-and-blue coordinator.
But she is more than that, and the 4-0 record from last time says it all.
Match play is a different animal from the usual stroke-play events that dominate the schedule. The first two days, which feature alternate-shot and best ball, add an even greater sense of team to the proceedings.
“I think I’m an easygoing person,” Pressel said. “I feel like I can play with anybody. I have a versatile game in that sense where I hit it down the middle and it’s not going to go as far as some of the other girls, but I can keep it in play and sometimes that’s important.”
Back in 2005, Pressel hit her final drive straight and was sitting comfortably in the middle of the fairway, waiting for the group in front of her to clear the green. Kim was in that group up ahead, tied with Pressel. Not a single player had made a birdie that day on the uphill, 459-yard par-4 at Cherry Hills. When Kim’s ball went in, Pressel looked behind her, put her hands on her head in dismay and smiled.
Still in tears more than 30 minutes after the last shot, she conceded she wasn’t great at masking her emotions: “I try. But I don’t hide them well, as you can see.”
Almost a decade later, Pressel is one of the most consistent presences in American golf – winner of more than $5 million since she went pro later in 2005, and with 46 top-10 finishes. There’s also that remarkable Solheim Cup record, which includes a 3-0 mark in Sunday singles.
As for the one that got away that day at Cherry Hills – well, she doesn’t really look at it that way.
“There’s luck with everything,” she said. “Better to be lucky than good. Isn’t that one of the oldest sayings in the book?”
– By EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer
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