NORTH PORT – 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 Emery, who on Friday put together an eight-birdie, no-bogey 64 in the afternoon. Emery 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).
CAREER DAY PROPELS EMREY TO TOP OF LEADERBOARD
A career-low performance of 8-under par 64 from Allison Emrey (Charlotte, North Carolina) on day two of the inaugural SKYiGOLF Championship propelled the Wake Forest University alumna up the leaderboard and into sole possession of first place.
The bogey-free afternoon has Emrey at 9-under par overall heading into the weekend, two strokes ahead of second.
“It was one of those days where putting, chipping and my swing was all going well,” said Emrey. “I tried to hang back and play my game. It was really fun. I had a couple tap-in birdies, so that obviously helps and then I rolled in some long putts.”
On International Women’s Day, Emrey credited her record round to swing coach Leslie Elmore.
“I’ve been seeing her for 20 years, basically my whole life,” Emrey said. “She’s the one who helped me get into the game and I would go to her junior clinics when I was younger. I still see her to this day.”
Attention to detail, new techniques has Lauren Kim in prime position
Starting on the front nine today, Lauren Kim, Los Altos, California, followed a birdie on No. 5 with back-to-back bogeys and eventually made the turn at 1-over par on the afternoon. The window to turn her play around on Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club at Bobcat Trail was shrinking, but there was time.
“I felt myself getting out of my head and routine, so remembering it’s a four-day event and the first of the season to not get too far ahead of myself and trusting the process I put myself through all offseason was key,” Kim said. “I’ve been working on attitude with my coach Jorge Parada and really my whole team, how to keep going and bounce back from bad holes or rounds.”
That is exactly what Kim used to right the ship and record a bogey-free, 3-under par coming in. The Stanford University alumna is now 7-under overall after 36 holes and the other half of the final pairing for tomorrow’s third round.
Granada leaps up leaderboard with low round two
Not too far behind Emrey’s record-setting showing was Julieta Granada, Asuncion, Paraguay, who fired a 7-under par 65 to jump into a tie for third after 36 holes at the inaugural SKYiGOLF Championship.
Entering the day, Granada was tied for 49th and was able to cover plenty of ground thanks to an eagle on the par-4 14th, as well as six birdies. She discussed how several starts on the NWGA Eggland’s Best Ladies Professional Golf Tour before the season helped her get focused.
“Days like this are fun,” Granada said laughingly. “I’m in a tournament rhythm and it was a good day. I made some putts, hit some really good shots and just enjoyed it. Some silly mistakes yesterday, but today was sharper overall. I managed my misses very well, got up and down every time so that helps.”