Emerging from the shadow of her LPGA veteran sister, Madison Pressel looks forward to her future on the fairways
Ask Madison Pressel about being the younger sibling of a well-known sporting sister and you may expect a slew of psychobabble ramblings concerning rivalries and perceived childhood slights. But for the Tampa native who, at the age of six moved to Boca Raton with the rest of her sportsmad family, the reality is refreshingly au contraire.
Sitting in the clubhouse of the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Florida, on the eve of the Stage II LPGA Qualifier Tournament, the 21-year-old blonde, with an easy-going manner so bereft in many of her fellow professionals’ personal makeup, had nothing but praise for her older sister Morgan Pressel, who has provided a constant source of sporting advice and inspiration. “Morgan and I are very close,” explains Madison. “We talk about everything because she
went through the same experiences I’m going through right now. She knows the pressures that come with trying to become a professional golfer.”
But for her grandfather’s advice, Madison’s professional life could have turned out far different. “My mom coached tennis professionally, and that’s the sport I played when my family moved from Tampa,” says Madison. “But my grandfather thought I was too slow.” Laughing now at what many would have perceived as a paterfamilias-type character assassination, Morgan drew strength from his blunt assessment.
“So I followed Morgan’s path and took up golf. I wasn’t forced,” Madison admits. “I took golf up as a hobby at first and really didn’t take the sport seriously until I was in my early teens.”
Sadly, fate offered a tragic twist to Madison’s commitment. “My mom passed away when I was 12,” she explains. “Right around that time I was seeing the success Morgan was having. Golf simply became my outlet. I knew my mom would want me to be successful and to take part in something I would enjoy. So I started looking at golf more seriously. I entered tournaments, succeeded, and I began to love the game.”
I LEFT TEXAS KNOWING I ACHIEVED WHAT I WANTED TO ACHIEVE. I LIVED MY DREAM. IT WAS AN AWESOME TIME OF MY LIFE AND A GREAT HONOR TO REPRESENT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS’ ATHLETICS DEPARTMENT.”
Gliding through junior golf tournaments throughout South Florida including Naples and Fort Myers, the fledgling golfing phenom found herself being recruited by various college programs as her high school career came to an end. “Luckily I was recruited by quite a few schools,” explains Madison. “Education has always been an important focus in my life. My family and I took a decision to use my golfing ability to get me into the best academic school I could. I was able to achieve a degree and play golf at the same time for four years,” she says.
It wasn’t long before the University of Texas at Austin became Madison’s home from home in 2009. But her decision wasn’t based on the Longhorns golfing success.
Quite the opposite, in fact, as Madison explains. “I wanted to be the reason Texas golf came back on the map,” she says. “The ladies golf team had struggled since 2004. I simply wanted to help bring the glory days back.”
And she did. While studying for a degree in finance with a specialization in real estate, Madison, under the guidance of Longhorns golf coach Martha Richards, helped guide the Longhorns to a Big 12 championship trophy in her 2011 sophomore year. “I left Texas knowing I achieved what I wanted to achieve. I lived my dream. It was an awesome time of my life and a great honor to represent the University of Texas’ athletics department,” she says proudly.
A jubilant Madison Pressel at the Solheim Cup, a golf tournament with teams representing Europe and the U.S.
Madison now finds herself at a crossroads she fully expected to meet. Success at the Venice qualifying event would eventually lead her to the final Qualifying-School tournament at the LPGA’s Daytona Beach headquarters. From there, the possibility of securing an LPGA Tour card for the coming season and, if her professional life emulates that of her sister’s, an endless whirligig of sponsors, access to the world’s most enticing golf destinations and financial security.
Looking relaxed on the Plantation’s driving range, Madison mixes easily with her fellow competitors, as high fives and hugs are the order of the day before the business of practice begins.
“I want golf to be my career,” admits Madison who shoots 350 yards from the tee. “I’m going to give it my all and I hope it works out.” However, life as a golf professional is not without its hazards both financially and personally as she knows only too well.
”I’ve been lucky,” she says. “I went to Texas knowing I wanted to make a career playing golf, but education is important too. I wanted to make sure I had a back-up plan. I’ll go out on tour for a few years, but if I feel I‘m not getting a return on my investment, then I have a degree to fall back on and I can make another career for myself.”
As for life on the road for a financiallystrapped rookie, she has no illusions as to the hardships that potentially await her. “It’s so expensive to live this life. My sister has friends playing on the LPGA Tour who, year after year, can barely make ends meet. And then they’re struggling out on the course because they’re worried about their personal lives. You have to be mentally strong to play this game successfully. If you’re worried about money, then your game is going to suffer,” she says.
“So far I’ve been able to avoid those issues. But it can be lonely out there. You’re away from your family for long periods of time and you’re staying in crappy hotels week after week. It’s very tough and not glamorous at all,” Madison says with a look of determination. Ken Haggerty is a regular correspondent for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Maine native, he also spent 15 years as a journalist in London, working as an editor on a broad range of sport and lifestyle magazines.
At the Plantation Golf and Country Club with Michelle Shin, a Wake Forest University alum and Fort Myers native