NORTH PORT, Fla. (March 8, 2019) – Rick Pano stood on the ninth green at Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club, on his daughter’s final hole of the day, taking a long look at the large SKYiGOLF Championship leaderboard just to the right of the green. It showed his 14-year-old daughter, Alexa Pano, at 6 under through two rounds, just one shot off the lead at the time. A proud father moment to be sure.
Rick Pano caddies for his daughter, and he is realistic, too. He knows his daughter, though very young and the only amateur in a field filled by professionals, is a very good player. So as nice it was to see the family name after her second consecutive 3-under 69 at the Symetra Tour’s season opener, it wasn’t in the least bit surprising to him.
“That’s why we’re here,” he said. “I’d be lying to you if I told you anything different.”
For a brief time early in Round 2 of the inaugural $250,000 SKYiGOLF Championship, Alexa Pano tied for the lead at 6 under par, her birdie for the second straight day at the par-5 18th (her ninth hole) getting her to 3 under for her round. On the front nine, she traded a bogey at the par-4 third hole with a birdie at the par-5 fourth (from 15 feet), but she did not get another birdie try to drop on her way in.
Through two rounds, Pano, 77th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, is right where she wants to be, only three shots behind red-hot Allison Emry, who on Friday put together an eight-birdie, no-bogey 64 in the afternoon. Emry is at 9-under 135. Lauren Kim (67-70) is the only other pro ahead of Pano, who is tied with three others for third place, a group that includes former LPGA winner Julieta Grenada (65).
“It feels really good when you’re playing good and you feel that the results are showing up as well,” Alexa Pano said. “If on one hole my drive was bad, then my next shot was good and my putt made up for it. I definitely recovered well today after some really bad drives on the first nine. But nothing was all together today or yesterday, so hopefully it will come together over the final two days.”
Funny, but Rick Pano didn’t think his daughter hit the ball all that solidly in Friday’s second round (she managed to recover from some poor tee shots by hitting 17 greens in regulation) and Alexa felt as if she left a few good opportunities slip by on the greens (she missed two birdie chances from inside 10 feet on her final four holes, and had two other putts graze the lip). But her day’s goal was to shoot another 69, matching Thursday’s first-round effort, and all is good as she heads into the weekend trying to win a professional event at the age of 14.
As for the weekend? “Now I can try to go as low as I can,” she said.
“I didn’t know much about her but had heard she was a great player, and she proved it,” said fellow competitor Katelyn Sepmoree (69-142), who played alongside Pano for two days. “I honestly didn’t think she was 14. She’s very mature, and her short game impressed me. Usually, the hardest part of the game to develop is your short game, but she’s very mature.”
As the lone amateur in the 132-player starting field, Pano is not eligible to receive any prize money (the SKYiGOLF Championship winner’s check of $37,500 is one of the richest in the history of the Symetra Tour). But she definitely could take home the trophy as the tournament’s first champion. It would be a nice way to warm up for her appearance at next month’s first Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Pano is trying to become one of the youngest winner’s of a professional golf tournament. In July 2017, 14-year-old amateur Atthaya Thitikul won the Ladies European Thailand Championship. Lydia Ko won the LPGA’s Canadian Open at age 15, eclipsing an age record set by Lexi Thompson, who was 16 when she won her first LPGA title (2011 Navistar LPGA Classic).