Marisa Messana (Clemson Athletics photo)
The beauty of South Florida is that golf can be played year-round. Marisa Messana should know – it’s where she grew up.
In the winter, Messana’s childhood home is like an escape for competitive golf. Players from all areas of the country flock to the greater Miami area (Messana hails from Ft. Lauderdale) to get competitive reps when much of the rest of the country is covered in snow. And for the past six years, Messana has taken advantage of that, teeing it up right alongside them.
For Messana, 22, the Dixie Women’s Amateur -- to be played this week in Tamarac, Fla. -- has been something of a measuring stick. She has played it every year after first entering the event in 2012 at the age of 16, long before she arrived at a fledgling Clemson program and began etching her name all over the record books. She finished outside the top 30 that year even though another South Florida dweller, Paula Reto, got a historic win when she became the first player to repeat in the event.
Reto, a 28-year-old South African, has since gone professional. She now presents the Dixie Amateur trophy to the winner each year. But Reto and Messana have struck up a friendship, and Reto even caddied for her mentee at the Dixie one year.
“It’s a funny little circle of how my game has progressed and how her game has progressed,” said Messana.
Earlier this year, the two shared a room during the Zellwood Classic, a tournament on the NWGA Eggland’s Best Tour. Reto posted 63 in the final round to win the event, and Messana was watching closely.
“We’ve always been good friends and she’s been a mentor to me over the years,” Messana said.
This will likely be Messana’s last go at the Dixie Amateur. Her eligibility at Clemson used up, it’s time for Messana to transition to professional golf. She entered LPGA Qualifying School in the fall, and though she didn’t advance past the first stage, it was a realistic look at the future – in a good way.
“The biggest takeaway is that I do belong there and I’m not far off,” she said. “That was a little bit eye-opening really. I had two bad holes that really took me out of it.”
Messana zipped through her undergraduate degree in three years while at Clemson, helped by the fact that she spent summers on campus taking classes and working on her game. With a year of eligibility left but her degree completed, she decided to embark on a Masters degree in human resources, which she will complete in another year.
Messana was a pillar on that Tiger team, becoming the first four-year starter in program history and the only female athlete in school history to win the Elite 90 Award (an award presented each year to the athlete at the national championship with the highest GPA among participants). The list goes on.
In a Sunday practice round for the Dixie, Messana was paired with Clemson freshman Alexandra Swayne. As Clemson coaches say, Alex “has a little Marisa in her” when it comes to work ethic. Engaging with the upcoming generation is a way for Messana to stay invested in the program.
“That was really cool just getting her perspective on the program and learning what she had been excited about,” she said.
There have been a handful of mini-tour starts and amateur events as Messana continues to make her way toward professional golf. Success at the Dixie would truly bring the amateur journey full circle.
ABOUT THE Dixie Women's Amateur
72-hole stroke invitational women's stroke play
event played at Palm Aire
Country Club. Field consists of former Dixie Amateur
Champions, and women from around the world
invited by the
Tournament Committee. (You may request an
invitation at www.dixieamateur.com
Tournament takes on extra
importance as one of the last major international amateur
events to be played
before the Augusta National Women's Amateur
(ANWA) determines their
ranking-based exemption list. The field limit will be
is cut after 54 holes to
the low 70 players and ties.
View Complete Tournament Information