Alexa Pano had one final goal to reach before turning professional: Play a competitive round at Augusta National.
To do that, she had to qualify for the final round of the recent Augusta National Women’s Amateur, doubling the pressure on the 17-year-old.
“It was definitely a massive deal to get it done this year,” Pano said Tuesday. “Everything revolved around that being my last event. I was so happy I could get it done this year. It was everything I dreamed of.”
Few knew when Pano walked off the hallowed course on April 2 after shooting a 74 and tying for 12th, that it would be her final round as an amateur. On Tuesday, Pano announced on social media she is turning professional, saying the decision “has been a long time coming.”
“This is her life decision,” said Rick Pano, Alexa’s dad and caddie. “I’m extremely happy she is doing this.”
Rick said it didn’t hit him until the practice round at Augusta National, the day before the ANWA final.
“She’s walking down the fairway … it just popped into my head and I said, ‘Tomorrow’s it.’ ”
Pano’s amateur career has been legendary. Her list of accomplishments stacks up with the best: Three appearances in the AWNA and that top 12 finish this year, a member of the winning United States Junior Ryder Cup team in 2016, 15 USGA championships, tied for the most U.S. Kids Golf World Championships with five and 19 LPGA/Epson tournaments.
Alexa Pano of the United States plays her stroke from the No. 1 tee during a practice round for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club, Friday, April 1, 2022. (Photo: Augusta National Women’s Amateur)
In 2019, she was the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open and to play in the inaugural ANWA. At 11, she was the youngest golfer to play an LPGA of Japan Tour event.
Pano said one of her coaches texted her Tuesday and asked if she felt any different.
“I kind of feel exactly the same,” she told him.
Pano’s maturity and ability to not be overwhelmed by the moment have defined her career. That will come in handy next week when she plays her first tournament on the Epson Tour as a professional, the Copper Rock Championship in Hurricane, Utah.
“I don’t think there will be any nerves,” said Pano, who is being homeschooled and will receive her high school diploma this year. “It’s kind of just like another golf tournament for me. I’ve always gone into every event I was playing in to try and win it, even when I’ve had good weeks and bad weeks. I don’t think anything changes as far as golf mindset.”
Pano has full status on the Epson Tour – the qualifying tour of the LPGA – after finishing in the top 10 of Stage II of the LPGA Q-School in October. She is planning to play in 16 Epson events. She has been invited to play in an LPGA Tour event in Japan in the fall and may play in two or three others.
Pano also will attempt to qualify for the June 2-5 U.S. Women’s Open next month.
“It’s my belief that she did it for two reasons, both competitive,” Rick said. “Since she was 8, she always wanted to play against the best players in the world, the highest level she could. And she’s driven by seeing how good she can get.
“It’s a different mentality, it’s a different emotion, and it’s different maturity level. I think we’re prepared for it, but you never know until you get there.”