Golf prodigy Alexa Pano competing as an amateur as the Symetra FireKeepers event at Battle Creek Country Club gets underway
Only 14 years old, Alexa Pano is competing against the pros at the Symetra FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championships this week at Battle Creek Country Club. (Photo: Provided)
What were you doing when you were 14 years old?
Playing in a professional golf tournament halfway across the country from your home?
Didn’t think so.
But that’s what this week looks like for Alexa Pano, a 14-year-old golf prodigy competing in the Symetra Tour FireKeepers Casino Hotel Golf Championships at Battle Creek Country Club, which started Friday.
Pano was first introduced to the golf world as part of a documentary and became a Netflix star at the age of 8 when she appeared in 2013 in “The Short Game” — a view of the competitive world of junior golf.
Admittedly, she is a curiosity to some, but for her this weekend in Battle Creek is another step in her process to become better as a golfer and to, one day, join the LPGA Tour full time.
“For some people, and some of the golfers out here, meeting me might be a little uncomfortable. It’s like, ‘Gosh, you are 14, how are you here?’ ” Pano said. “But I am comfortable out here and with the other golfers. I don’t feel different. It’s just really another golf tournament for me at this point.
“I’m used to the attention. It’s just part of it now. I have done a lot of media, including doing that movie, and it has all been a good experience for me and I am not really that shy little 5-year-old I was before. Now, I see myself as just a golfer, like everyone else here. I don’t hear people talking about other golfers’ ages, so I don’t focus on that either.”
Pano, who is playing in this Symetra Tour event on a sponsor’s exemption, has held on to her amateur status and will not be in the running for part of the $125,000 purse. But she, and the rest of the 144-player field, will all be teeing up to win the championship trophy that will be presented Sunday after the final round.
“I have played in a couple Symetra events this summer, and I have been pretty close in contention. So this week, I just hope to play well and finally secure one this weekend,” Pano said.
Pano, who was born in Massachusetts and lives now in Florida, is No. 3 in the Rolex American Junior Golf Association rankings as one of the youngest golfers in those standings. She was a runner-up at the 2018 U.S. Girls Junior Championship and a member of the winning East Team at the 2018 Wyndham Cup and helped lead Team USA to the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup title.
This summer, she has also competed in the Four Winds Invitational on the Symetra Tour and the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic on the LPGA Tour. She also qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Open in May, after first trying out for that tournament at the age of 8.
“I am really lucky to have the opportunities I have had on the Symetra Tour and the LPGA and I have already played in a major, so I am pretty comfortable playing in this tournament this week and am excited to be out here,” Pano said.
Defending champ returns
Marta Sanz Barrio, who won the 2018 FireKeepers Championship in Battle Creek, is back to defend her title. Last year’s win was the first of her Symetra Tour career and one of four top-15 finishes from the Auburn University alumna. It helped propel Sanz Barrio to finish No. 31 in the final 2018 Volvik Race for the Card standings.
Round 1 got underway on Friday and continues Saturday, starting at 7:30 a.m. The top 60 golfers who make the cut in the 144-player field will play in the Sunday’s final round.
Coming Back Home
Seven individuals with ties to Michigan colleges are featured among competition this week.
Gabrielle Shipley and Sarah Hoffman have connections to Grand Valley State University. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan has one Wolverine representative in amateur and tournament sponsor exemption Alisa Snyder.
The largest contingent comes from Michigan State, with Elizabeth Nagel and Allyssa Ferrell, as well as two of the six total tournament sponsor exemptions in amateurs Ally Geer-Park and Haylin Harris.
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick.