Morgan Pressel talks about her first round at the Volvik Championship. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The sun was shining at Travis Pointe Country Club on Thursday, and for Morgan Pressel, it was like old times.
Only part of it was because it reminded her of the many summers she spent growing up in Michigan, playing junior golf and spending time with family as she became one of the top amateur players in the nation, qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open in 2001 at the age of 12.
“I said to my caddie, I said, ‘This is like a perfect Michigan summer day,’” Pressel said. “This is what I remember growing up as a kid spending a lot of time here.”
The more important part was the way she played during the first round of the Volvik Championship. Instead of suffering the inconsistent play that has hindered her in recent years, the former major champion was busy making eight birdies — the most in the field in the opening round — and looking a whole lot like a player ready to break through and start contending once again.
“I almost think it could have been even better just because of the few mistakes that I made,” Pressel said. “Three-putting the second hole was kind of silly, a couple poor bunker shots. But definitely taking a lot of positives from today.
“It’s been a while since I feel like I’ve been able to pull it all together, so today definitely felt like a good step in the right direction.”
Pressel finished with a 5-under 67, leaving her one shot behind a four-player logjam at the top led by PGA champion Danielle Kang, who was joined at 6-under by Moriya Jutanugarn, Caroline Masson and Amy Olson.
Three bogeys did little to slow Pressel’s momentum as she nearly posted an even lower score. An eagle chip on No. 6 — her 15th hole of the day — hit the pin and dropped next to the hole. A birdie putt on No. 7 was left on the edge and she lipped out a birdie effort on No. 8.
A nice up-and-down for par at No. 9 closed the round for Pressel, the 67 matching her best single-round score all season.
“It was a solid round of golf. Eight birdies is great. I haven’t made that many birdies in a while, so it was good to get out there,” Pressel said. “Made a lot of good putts, hit some good shots close. Didn’t have to work too, too hard out there today. Had a couple of squirrely shots that led to bogeys, but tighten that up, come back out and get ready to go tomorrow.”
Whether the opening round leads to a resurgence for Pressel remains to be seen. One of the more notable players on tour, things haven’t come easy lately for the five-time Solheim Cup team member who won her first major in just her second year on tour in 2007.
After not recording a single top-10 finish last season, Pressel has slowly been regaining her form, finishing in a tie for seventh last month at the LA Open.
“I feel like they’ve been close,” Pressel said of her rounds. “I feel like one day I hit it great and I putt poorly, and the next day I feel like my swing is kind of a mess. It’s just been, it’s been kind of right on that edge. Today it definitely felt a little bit better and was able to really keep good swing thoughts and steady composure throughout the day.”
Now the 128th-ranked player in the world, Pressel is hoping the hometown feel gives her a spark this week.
A native of Boca Raton, Florida, Pressel is the niece of tennis star and Grosse Pointe native Aaron Krickstein while her mother, Kathy, was a Big Ten tennis champion at the University of Michigan. That led to many summers in the state and the feeling like she’s at “home” during weeks like this.
“It’s great to have friends and family out here to watch this week,” Pressel said. “You know, I love being here. … So definitely I want to play well here and it adds that little bit of extra for me, for sure.”
A win would not only get things back on track for Pressel, it would get her in next week’s U.S. Open. But she’ll have plenty of competition over the next three rounds to pull that off.
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Kang, who became a major champion last season, had a bogey-free round while Masson eagled No. 14 to offset a pair of bogeys on the back nine. Olson, who got to 7-under at one point, is looking for her first win while Jutanugarn earned his first victory last month.
“We just stayed really patient and I had a bogey-free round, and I kind of wanted to do a bogey-free round today, I don’t know why,” Kang said. “Woke up, was like, ‘I don’t want to make any bogeys today, let’s just try that.’ I know that’s weird. I rolled the putts really well, I’m hitting the ball really good, even from last week. Just my game feels really great, so just keep giving myself birdie chances.”
Pressel is among seven players who are one behind the lead group while six more players shot 4-under 68.
“There’s a long way to go,” Pressel said. “For me, it’s really about putting solid rounds of golf together. It’s a long season and I’m just happy to be a little bit more confident in my golf game.”