On the 18th fairway, 133 meters from the hole, Alexa Pano could feel her hopes of making it through the first leg of the LPGA qualifying tournament vanished on Sunday.
Pano came from two bogeys and hit her tee shot in 18th place in the water. There is no live scoring, but it felt like a golfer.
“I knew I had to do a par,” said Pano. “That’s all I’ve been thinking about.”
The just 17-year-old showed her courage by hitting a pitching wedge to 13 feet, then propelling the putt forward with one blow, and finishing 3 over 291 at the Rancho Mirage, Calif. Event.
“I didn’t know how much the putt meant at 18,” said Pano. “I’m doing now.”
The clutch par improved Pano to 89th place – the top 95 and a tie – so the bottom line was that she moved up. No different if you’re 89th or ninth.
But their celebration was dampened because Pano announced that she had recently received a letter from new LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan informing her that she had been denied an exception that would have allowed her to play in Q-School Level III – where you earn your card – until she’s 18.
Former LPGA commissioners have lifted the minimum rule for underage stars Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson and Michelle Wie. But these four all won on the LPGA Tour before they got the exception.
“We respect the commissioner’s letter because it was so transparent,” said Pano’s father Rick, also her caddy. “The Commissioner said that they would only grant the exemption on rare occasions.”
Rick Pano said that under the new rules of golf, his daughter can hire an agent and start receiving referrals – but keep her amateur status. Pano would likely stay an amateur, play one last time in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, and then turn pro.
Pano struggled with a swing change this year and relied on her impeccable short play for the final two rounds to save her, just as he did at 18.
“I just have to trust my swing and have as much trust in my game as everyone else around me,” said Pano.
Her father said there were plans for Pano to continue playing Stage II, which will be held in Venice at the Plantation Golf and Country Club October 21-24, to gain more experience. Pano celebrated her 17th birthday on Friday.