Young Champion Pano Making Good on Early Promise
A women’s golf publication recently hailed child golf star Alexa Pano as a “new sensation.” I suppose that as she nears the time in which she will increasingly play against older competition, that is true. However, as a sensation, she is not new. It was my pleasure to learn of her a few years ago, while she was already winning almost everything in sight. More than a gifted shot-maker, she was a young child who loved the game and seemingly life in general. Now, Alexa Pano is thirteen. She’s a greater shot-maker than ever, still loves the game, and by all appearances still loves life,
Some things are different for Pano. She stands at 5’8″ and may grow a few more inches, drives around 240 (hang on – that’s going to increase a lot) and is playing against college-age players on a fairly regular basis. In 2017, she was the leader of the Southern Atlantic Women’s Amateur Championship (SALLY) going into the back nine at six under. That tournament has been going since 1926, and has handed the trophy to the likes of Patty Berg to Brooke Henderson. Most of us believe that such company will be weekly fare for Pano in the coming years. After winning so many junior events, she has qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and is striving to qualify for the Women’s U.S. Open. That will likely come sooner than later.
Father Rick Pano saw the possibilities when Alexa was six. She has been under his guidance ever since, which is one of the most interesting parts of the story. I am no stranger to being around high talent children, and there a million ways in which it can all go wrong. I have seen guidance turn to desperate vicarious living, rash and premature career decisions, personal breakdowns with lost childhoods, and other tragedies. The parent of such a talent who decides to commit fully will spend a enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources. Just as important, he or she will make thousands and thousands of decisions, some appearing to be small, but of enormous importance in the long run. It’s not a project for the emotionally erratic, and Mr. Pano has by all appearances negotiated the mine field brilliantly.
I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the sad cases, but Alexa Pano exhibits no trace of the adolescent anxiety so often present. She doesn’t play or smile like a kid in trouble. The magic of and passion for the game have not worn off, she is surrounded by top coaching talent, and she gets to be a regular kid off the course. Tournament play, which Pano apparently loves, has some limits for the time being. Homeschooling was her own decision, and she seems to have an ample group of friends and things she loves to do. On the course, she likes it best when it comes down to “you playing well, and them playing well.” That’s a thing good sportsmen and sportswomen say, a competitive sense that is healthy.
The rise from childhood to adult golfer is one of the more fascinating parts of following a player through the years, at least for me, The Pano story has some similarities to that of Charley Hull, but there are certainly others. I am well aware of the fact that she is not that far away from a time in which Lydia Ko won her first professional events. If her coach is correct, that’s the kind of excellence we’re talking about, whenever it decides to happen -different player, but the same level of gifts. Coach Spencer Graham III is helping shape Alexa’s swing for the demands of career golf, and legend Bob Toski is on the roster of advisers. Graham suspects he might have a number one world player on his hands, and he may very well be right. I don’t know the ins and outs of her game, but will check back every so often to make sure Alexa Pano is still smiling. So far, the future looks good,