Pano is in the Open

Teen Star Alexa Pano Has Qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at 14

When we see someone special coming from a distance in this game, our efforts to put her in perspective cannot be framed simply by wins and losses. On the other hand, if we’re speaking of Alexa Pano, wins and losses are not such a bad conversation to have, either. All of the early years have been encapsulated into a process of developing such a young prodigy for competition at the professional level. We tend to see childhood victories in terms of that, but we must not forget that they are victories in their own right, not just for where they are heading.

In many cases, we are left in speculation of “how good can this child really get?” Pano’s record changes the question to “when will it break out in the big leagues?” The concept of “if” is out of the question. This is a young lady who won her first world championship at the age of six. That’s a fairly Mozartian rate of development, as if a large part of her came into this world already knowing what to do. We just call it instinct to avoid being too “nanu” about it.  Still, what do you say to a six-year old world champion? The director and producers of The Short Game, filmed in 2013, knew what to say, and Pano had a brief taste of movie stardom as well before the age of ten.

Two years before that, Pano set about qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open. That’s the place where one plays against the big guns of the tour. Before responding with an “Ah, isn’t that cute?” sort of thing, it should be noted that this eight-year old came within two strokes of qualifying – let that sink in for a moment. Then let’s try to remember ourselves at eight, and let it sink in once more.

Now, at the age of fourteen, Alexa has played against the great juniors of her golfing world. The past eight years have served to begin filling a reservoir of experience, temperament, and nuts and bolts golf wisdom for any situation. And where does that lead? To another, higher level regimen of testing. Thanks to the 35-foot putt she rolled in to make the grade, she’s going to begin an increasing familiarity with some of the world’s greatest stars – how to play against them, how to manage nerves and strategy against them, and how to win against them. There was one more amateur get-together that meant a lot to Pano, and it didn’t turn out as well as she hoped it would. In the field for the Augusta National Women’ Amateur, she didn’t play in the final thirty, only seeing the obligatory practice round. It was cold comfort for someone with so many great places to go. So, her entrance into the Open is good medicine for that.

Apparently, several people vying for the spot didn’t think they were doing very well, Pano included. The putts weren’t dropping in general, and players began to figure that they had fallen out of contention. Delfina Carter won the day , with Pano one back. The U.S. Women’s Open will be held at the Country Club of Charleston, South Carolina beginning on May 30. It will be one of those milestone markers that don’t need to be judged by winning or losing, as I said previously – or perhaps it will be…you never know. Regardless, it is an enormous next step in preparation for what appears to be Pano’s professional destiny.

I suspect that it won’t be too many more years before we see Alexa as a regular on tour, and I resist the urge to entertain thoughts of Ko in her mid-teens as a source of comparison. It really doesn’t work that way. All of us are on our own clock for revealing our best stuff. Pano’s clock may not be synchronized with Ko’s, but I feel strongly that “if” is still out of the question.

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