Alexa Stirling and Alexa Pano
One of the oversights we commit when we’re young (at least, I did), is to feel as though our era is the universe. It invented everything, is the high point of everything, and we’re part of it. When I was able to get across to a class that we are all given temporary membership in the flow of history, and that ancient civilizations mulled over the same questions as we do, some of them freaked out, inwardly.
With increasing age, the warmth of membership ascends as our love of stardom fades. It is then that we most appreciate those who have come before, and those who will come after. Today, I got a reminder of that, searching for something entirely different in the archives of modern golf.
I learned about a few of the people the great Bobby Jones hung out with, in the day when being an amateur was the highest calling in the game. One of them was Alexa Stirling, among the early female rulers of the pre-LPGA age.
Born in 1897, Alexa Stirling came out of Atlanta as a young North American golf champion, beginning with three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur titles. When the First World War erupted, everyone stopped playing golf, at least on tour, but not Alexa Stirling. She toured the United States, playing exhibitions on behalf of the Red Cross. It was an exciting time. The first aviators were still barnstorming the country, Thomas Edison was hitting his stride, and of course, Bobby Jones was the new face of golf. One of a group of new Southern golfers, she became a member of what became known as the “Dixie Kids.”
Stirling came back to win the 1919, 1920 Amateur titles, while automobiles were increasingly seen on North American streets, and light bulbs replaced lamps. She would win it again in 1934, a different era altogether. She also finished second three times.
In 1920, Stirling won the Canadian Open, and the country liked her, much as it does Lydia Ko, her descendant. Stirling liked it as well, marrying a Canadian physician, W.G. Fraser, and enjoying membership in the Royal Ottawa Golf Club. Naturally, she didn’t just sit around and socialize. She won the club’s championship nine times.
That’s just a very brief look at a founding mother of today’s golf. What really caught my attention, though, was when I turned the page (figuratively, of course,) and found an article on Alexa Pano.
Alexa Pano is somewhere around ten years of age, and has already won five world championships, and over forty regional and local tournaments. She’s not a gawky kid trying to put together a swing. It’s put together, and she’s got her sights set on becoming the Master’s first female participant, fully intending to make good on it. She’s shooting rounds in the 70s on courses that are not dumbed down, and like her ancestor of over a century before, she’s a “Dixie Kid,” out of Florida. Her father can’t drag her off the golf course, and although superlatives like prodigy and phenom are taboo in her presence, she has a strong sense of what she brings to any competition.
I had never heard of either Alexa Stirling or Alexa Pano until today. In these two remarkable golfers, I see the thread of golf’s existence, as it winds through and bonds the generations together. They are related – they are family. After today’s education on the history and current state of golf, I felt moved to salute Alexa Stirling, who triumphed before women were even allowed in clubs, and to welcome Alexa Pano, who just might turn the whole wonderful business on its head. Membership – there’s nothing like it.