AUGUSTA, Ga. – After missing the cut by two strokes in 2019, Alexa Pano is confident entering her second Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Pano teed off right before noon in one of the final groups. The start to Wednesday’s first round was inauspicious as she bogeyed two of the first three holes. She settled down but made the turn at 3-over par after a bogey on the par-5 ninth hole.
She added another square on No. 10 and sat at 4 over through 14 holes when play was suspended.
Her practice-round assessment of the courses painted a challenging picture for the days ahead. Due to the rain, the courses are playing relatively soft, with the exception of the greens.
“I thought it was fun, definitely a little different shape than a couple years ago. Around the greens and in the fairways, it’s pretty wet from the storms but the greens are the most firm I’ve seen them,” Pano said. “On a couple of them it was even hard fixing ball marks. That’ll be a challenge.”
The course played a bit firmer during Tuesday’s practice round, but the wind gave everyone fits.
The last calendar year has been up and down for the 16-year-old. She missed cuts for the North & South Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Amateur; her best recent finish came Nov. 23 in the Rolex Tournament of Champions, a tie for fifth. Despite the recent struggles, she feels like she’s pulled herself through those struggles and her game is back on the right track.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I obviously had some interesting events to end 2020 and begin 2021, but it was all a learning experience for me in growing through some things and my swing, like every golfer has experienced,” she said. “I feel like I’ve gotten through that and I’ve worked really hard on some things, so hopefully it’s as good as I feel like it is.”
Even after all that, Pano managed to maintain her top-30 Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking to qualify. At just 16, she has the chance to become a mainstay in this tournament for years to come.
As a 14-year-old in 2019, Pano was the youngest participant in the inaugural ANWA. 2021 isn’t new, as she’s still the youngest at just 16. It probably won’t be new for a while, and she’s used to it by this point.
“I feel like I’ve been the youngest at so many events in my career that it’s just kind of normal to me now. I also feel a lot older, so I don’t really think about it that much, but it is something cool that I’ve been able to experience so much at a young age and be able to be here experiencing this. It’s something I’m definitely proud of,” she said.
Many with her experience in junior events might treat this as just another tournament to win. Pano thinks otherwise, citing the difficulty in doing so.
“I think there’s no way to not separate Augusta from everything else,” she said. “It’s so much more special and there’s so much more meaning to it. We’ve all prepared for this event for a while, and it’s something I look forward to on my calendar every year now. Having it canceled last year was really sad, but I’m glad to be back here this year.”