Alex Took Her Time, But Has Arrived on LPGA Tour
When I was a student on the east coast, a friend and I used to joke that there is no such place as Paterson, New Jersey, because when you go there, everything says Wayne instead. In golf terms, Wayne is the real town this week, the home of Marina Alex, who just won her first LPGA tournament in Portland Oregon, the Cambia Portland Classic.
The victory comes after 123 starts over the past few years, but this is not a story of a so-so golfer suddenly having a brilliant week, and making good. Marina Alex, unlike many other players, was not born with a sand wedge in her hands. She spent her childhood doing other things than showing up at the course at the crack of dawn every day to practice her chipping. She began to develop her game at Vanderbilt during her college years, gradually refining it to become a pretty good player. It was good enough to get into the LPGA. However, where the wunderkinds try to explode on to the scene after winning all their regional amateur events, Alex did the same thing she had done in college. She gradually developed her game to the next level, seemingly getting a little better every month, and absolutely getting a little better every year. It was really just a matter of time, whether we saw her coming or not. In Portland, she decided that enough is enough, toying with the course record in one round, and putting together a string of birdies between 5 and 9 on the final day. Many of us were watching British Open winner Georgia Hall, thinking that was where the action was, but Alex was undeniable with her final 65, and the lowest four-round total of her life. In a record-setting rally, she came back from six strokes down. As it turns out, the late 20s isn’t such a bad time for a career breakthrough.
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Along the way, Alex describes a section of that final round as a time in which she “blacked out.” She just kept watching herself make birdies. That’s ‘The Zone” so common in conversations about performance tasks that require physical effort and fierce concentration. From artists to athletes, the phenomenon is highly sought after. It rarely visits, but for one blissful week, Alex found it, or it found her, what classical vocalists call the “Stato di Grazia,” or State of Grace. In that place, we can’t seem to do anything wrong, no matter what. We are, for just a moment, brilliant in spite of ourselves. Most of us can think of one or two instances of it, but Alex got four whole days.
I enjoyed the fact that Alex found her stato di grazia in Portland, Oregon, my home town. In a brief romance with sailing, I often passed the Columbia Edgewater Course back and forth all day. I have attended the tournament, and met many of my favorite players there. It is the place where I came to admire many of them as people, not just brilliant golfers. Alex’s view of the course was right on. It’s fairly straightforward with decent fairway width, but heavily tree-lined – sometimes big ones, Pacific Northwest style. If one gets their angles lined up properly, and keep the driver under narrow control, the birdie opportunities are endless. If not, better luck next year. Alex did just that, then sat back to watch the putts drop.
Many first-time winners have emerged in Portland from back in the years when the tournament was called the Safeway Open. Let’s hope that Marina Alex returns to Wayne from her first victory to the adulation the achievement deserves, and that her winning ways continue after all those years of work.