Now you see her, now you don't. So goes the story at the U.S. Women's Junior Amateur championship where Morgan Pressel thought she was a shoo-in to win this week but lost in second-round match-play action.
Colombia's Juliana Murcia Ortiz, another 17-year-old and a virtual unknown on the professional women's circuit, now moves on to the semi-finals. Morgan goes home crying again.
The question for Pressel is whether or not competing at the junior amateur level after a second place finish at the US Women's Open was a good idea?
On one hand Morgan is just seventeen, an amateur and still allowed to play golf at this tournament so why shouldn't she? The winner automatically qualifies for exemption at the US Women's Open as well as sectional qualifying exemptions at the US Women's Amateur Publinks and the next two Women's Amateur tournaments. There is also alot of prestige that goes along with a win. Girls' Junior champions have won the Women's Amateur eleven times and the Women's Open ten times. In addition, fifteen Girls Junior champions have gone on to represent the USA on the Curtis Cup team.
Perhaps Pressel felt that after competing on a level with the top golfers on the LPGA tour she could easily add another win at the amateur level. And it seemed, after an easy win in first round stroke-play action, that Morgan was prepared to take home the trophy.
Morgan wasn't defeated easily. The match went into playoff holes. But Morgan was on the downswing. Two holes down with two left to play, Ortiz birdied the 17th and won the 18th after Pressel put her ball into a greenside hazard to force a playoff. Ortiz wound up defeating Pressel after chipping in from forty feet. A similar defeat was handed to Pressel at the US Women's Open when Birdie Kim holed a sand shot from a greendside bunker.
"This hurts more" said Pressel. "Obviously she played well enough to win. But I kind of gave it away a little bit on 18."
In my opinion Morgan did the right thing by competing this week. Competition keeps the mind alert and the body strong. The fact that Morgan was defeated might alert her to the fact that she still needs to work on her game and understand her weaknesses better. It also might drop her ego down a notch and allow her to focus more on the competition than the prize.
Another question regards the women on the LPGA tour. Realizing that Morgan is just seventeen and beats them at one of the world's most prestigious golf tournaments and then loses at a junior amateur competition… will that give the women a mental edge the next time one of them plays against Morgan? And will Pressel be able to come back stronger on the professional tour after her defeat this week?
There has been ongoing talk between Pressel and the LPGA regarding earlier entry into the professional league, so it's obvious that Morgan's goal is to turn pro as soon as possible. A settlement has been reached regarding her professional career which was a mixture of good and bad news.
A petition for a waiver of the LPGA tour's 18-year-old age restriction will be granted to Pressel allowing her to go to Q-School in the fall. But LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw told her if she wins exempt or conditional status at Q-School she won't be allowed to use that status to play the tour as a member until she turns 18 on May 23, about one-third of the way through the 2006 season.
This upset Morgan because her opportunities will be limited next year and put more pressure on her to win enough money to retain exempt status. "I'm happy with the first part of the decision that allows me to go to Q-school, and I thank Ty Votaw for that," Pressel said. "I'm frustrated that I can't play until my 18th birthday."
In her haste to turn pro, Morgan has decided to turn down a full scholarship at Duke University, home of many a budding golf pro including Brittany Lang. Lang tied for second with Pressel at the Women's Open and has played a few tournaments since with mediocre results. I believe it's a mistake for Pressel to turn down the scholarship. For those lucky enough to be given a free education at a prestigious university and turn it down shows a lack of smarts.
For example, what happens if she gets injured as many athletes do? What's her Plan B? At seventeen, an immature teenager may not think that way, but the people who are guiding her career should assess all options and make the best move for Morgan, whether or not she thinks so.
Morgan and her "camp" must also be seeing dollar signs. With a second-place finish at the Women's Open Morgan stood to gain about $200,000.
Talk of endorsements is growing over Michelle Wie with analysts considering the amount of dollars the 15-year-old phenom could possibly make if she turned pro. Dollar figures in the tens of millions are being thrown around by both the media and sports analysts and people are wondering if the young guns of the LPGA will soon be given similar money to some of the PGA pros.
My opinion? If the money isn't a necessity stay a kid for as long as possible, get a good education and play golf through sponsor's exemptions. The money will always be there for a golfer who knows how to win. Learn your trade from the ground up and become confident enough so that you get stronger as the round goes on instead of folding under pressure from lack of experience. And stop your bellyaching.
Photo Credit: © AP Photo/Laura Rauch.