WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Morgan Pressel has playing privileges at Trump International, meaning she can get on the lavish course whenever she wants.
Fortunately, she won’t have to call in any favors this week.
It was a rocky 2008 for Pressel, who became the youngest major winner last season by claiming the Kraft Nabisco title but never got rolling this year, with her one victory overshadowed by five missed cuts (three consecutively) and not being able to finish better than 25th in 17 of 25 tournaments.
Still, she managed to be among 32 qualifiers for the ADT Championship, the season-ending LPGA bash which starts Thursday on one of her home courses, a mere 30-minute ride north from her Boca Raton home.
And the cool $1 million winner’s prize would surely help Pressel forget the headaches that plagued ’08.
“Anytime that you play poorly, it’s not a confidence builder,” said the 20-year-old Pressel, whose win at the Kapalua Classic in October went a long way toward assuring her a spot for the ADT, which chooses its qualifiers through points accrued over each half of the season. “It wasn’t pretty.”
Not even close to pretty.
Pressel’s emotions got the best of her more than once, she broke 70 only once in her first 28 rounds this year, and was never really in contention at the Nabisco in her first chance to defend a title.
So Pressel — who freely acknowledges she has very little patience — didn’t wait until the season ended to change things.
She hired a new swing coach over the summer, with hopes of generating more clubhead speed and regaining distance she was rapidly losing off the tee. An added commitment to fitness and strength helped there considerably, and Pressel even decided it was time to refine her putting game, too.
Pressel skipped the LPGA stop in Mobile, Ala. in early September, so she could get a full month off to work on her game. Before the layoff, her last result was a tie for 60th at the Safeway Classic; three starts after the layoff, she was a winner again at Kapalua — and enjoyed a surge of confidence that was sorely lacking.
“It’s better to make changes than to continue playing poorly,” Pressel said. “That was kind of my mind-set. I didn’t want to continue playing like that, continue beating myself up over the poor play and it feeds off itself after a while. It’s not easy to make a change while you’re playing … but it was something I set my mind to.”
The bold move could pay further dividends this week.
Pressel is a fan of the unusual ADT format, and just might have the necessary amount of confidence right now to be in that mix for the $1 million prize, which gets displayed, in cash, in a thick plexiglass cube on Sunday.
The field gets cut to 16 after Friday’s second round and the scorecards are wiped clean, and Saturday’s round trims the field to eight finalists, with $100,000 for second place and $20,000 for third.
“It is a true playoff tournament where you have 32 people, and everybody getting eliminated up until the last day,” said Cristie Kerr, a Miami native and member at Trump International. “So I think it adds to a lot of drama. You know, having eight people and not knowing what’s going to happen.”
Sunday’s round starts with everyone tied once again.
It’s the third year of the $1 million winner’s prize; Julieta Granada won in 2006, Lorena Ochoa is the defending champion.
Annika Sorenstam — who is making what’s billed as her final LPGA Tour appearance this week before “stepping away” from the game to start a family and pursue business interests — has won four ADT titles, but each of those came in the conventional, four-round, stroke-play format.
“I don’t know if you ever get used to this format,” Pressel said. “It’s definitely a bit crazy. That’s part of the reason why it’s like that. It’s a story line and it draws attention. It makes it exciting. It definitely makes it exciting come Sunday. You’ve just got to play well.”
It really is that simple.
Now, maybe for the first time all season, Pressel believes she’s playing well enough to win.
“She’s got a great will for the game and a feistiness about her, that as long as it takes, nothing’s going to hold her down,” said Kerr, a longtime friend who had Pressel among the bridesmaids in her wedding. “That’s just the way she is. She made a change in coach and some changes to her putting and some things, but that’s what good players do. If something’s not working, they find a way to make it work.”