By Ron Driscoll, USGA
The golf course is not the only place where Alexa Pano belies her youth.
The 11-year-old sixth grader from Lake Worth, Fla., captured her 10-11 age division in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club in April. When she arrived at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship in late May at Streamsong Resort as the youngest competitor, she didn’t need to be introduced to the oldest player in the field, Carolyn Creekmore, 63, of Dallas.
“We were both playing in the Doherty [a prestigious amateur event in Florida] several months ago, and we had breakfast together because we were the first ones at the course,” said Pano of Creekmore, the 2004 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion who has also served as the tournament director of the Warrior Open, which honors wounded military veterans. “She’s an amazing player and a great inspiration.”
Pano is drawing inspiration from several sources, including her first trip to Japan, where she competed this past week in the Yonex Open on the LPGA of Japan Tour. And while she did not make the cut, her score is a relatively small aspect of the experience, which makes her the youngest player to ever compete in an LPGA of Japan Tour event.
“This is my first time traveling out of the country,” said Pano, who received a sponsor’s exemption from Yonex. “We have a translator traveling with us, which is good because when I try to communicate, I don’t think they have any idea what I’m saying. But I love everything here – in my opinion, the food is incredible.”
The event is being played at Yonex Country Club in the Niigata Prefecture, on the island of Honshu.
“The golf course is on a mountain, yet it’s near the Japan Sea,” said Pano. “It’s very interesting, and very challenging. It actually reminds me a little bit of Streamsong, even though it has more trees than you could imagine.”
At Streamsong, Pano partnered with Alyssa Lamoureux, 16, of Seminole, Fla., and they combined for rounds of 68-72 in stroke play on Streamsong Blue, a Tom Doak design carved out of the sand dunes that resulted from the phosphate mining operations on the central Florida site. Their 36-hole total of 4-under-par 140 earned them the No. 15 seed in the match-play field of 32 sides, but they lost in the first round to Sofia Chabon and Mikhaela Fortuna, 5 and 4.
“Alyssa has always been a great friend of mine, so it wasn’t hard for us to have fun on the course,” said Pano of her partner, who won the 2014 Florida Girls’ Junior Match Play title and was runner-up in last year’s Florida Women’s Amateur. “On Day 1, we played really well, and on Day 2, we just couldn’t get any putts to roll in. The match was really tough because they threw a lot of birdies at us.”
Pano and Lamoureux tried to keep their partnership simple from a strategy perspective.
“We both just played our regular game, but if the other one needed help with something, we would talk about it,” said Pano, who is a four-time U.S. Kids Golf age-group world champion (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015). “I thought we did well for our first time trying. I love Alyssa as a partner, and I hope we can play together next year.”
The 2017 championship will be played at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where Pano is unlikely to see quite as many familiar faces.
“It was great to play in my first USGA championship at Streamsong,” said Pano. “The Florida State Golf Association is a big part of my life with all the tournaments that I play. Because [the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball] was played in their region, I knew a lot of the officials. That made it really special.”
Pano is hoping to return next April to Augusta National, where her division-winning total of 26 points was highlighted by a first place in the driving competition and second place in chipping.
“I learned a few years ago that everything is going to be incredible with Augusta National,” said Pano, who finished third in the 7-9 age division in the inaugural 2014 National Finals. “This year I got to spend time talking with Mrs. [Diana] Murphy, the president of the USGA, and I got to do a press conference where I met Cheyenne Woods. Afterwards, I had so many people congratulating me when I got home, some of them I didn’t even know. It made me realize how many people paid attention to the competition.”
Pano’s local qualifier for the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt is coming up July 5 at Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, Mass., sandwiched between a U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifier in June and a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in July.
“Certain tournaments you play to win,” Alexa’s father, Rick, recently told Global Golf Post. “Others you play to learn, and others you play to improve.”
Expect plenty of all of the above in Pano’s future.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.