Alexa Pano (Steve Gibbons/USGA photo)
Perhaps no player has displayed the kind of crossover ability that Alexa Pano
has this season. The 14-year-old from Lake Worth, Fla., has bounced from junior golf to amateur golf to professional golf. The week after winning the Dustin Johnson Junior Invitational, for instance, she played in the final group at the SkyiGolf Championship on the Symetra Tour, barely falling short of winning a professional title as a middle schooler.
Pano is two weeks removed from an uncharacteristic defeat in the first round of U.S. Girls’ Junior match play. But this week? She’s co-medalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Pano is believed to be the second-youngest medalist in championship history, seven months older than Lydia Ko, who was 14 years, 4 months when she was the co-medalist in 2011 at Rhode Island Country Club. Pano had a strong second nine at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., with four birdies, including one from 10 feet on the par-5 ninth, her last of the day.
“I kind of knew because I saw a couple of my friends were at 5 [under], but there aren’t many [scoreboards] on the front nine,” said Pano on where she stood among the leaders. “I kind of had a little bit of an idea, though.
“The past few years I’ve been really close to top seed. Last year, I doubled the final hole [and] I was the fifth seed, and the year before I was like maybe seventh seed and I lost in the first round both times. To be honest with you, the higher the seed, I better, I suppose. Like my dad [and caddie] said, I can’t go out and play for second.”
Pano tied with Jiarui Jin, 16, for medalist honors. Jin, of China, carded a bogey-free, 6-under 66 – matching the lowest score of the week – in the second round. Just last month, another Chinese player, Lei Ye, won the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Ye also made match play at Old Waverly.
“Me and Angelina [Ye] are really good friends, and we’re both from China,” said Jin, the first Chinese player to earn medalist honors in the Women’s Amateur. “It makes me really happy to see so many Chinese people are playing well. Yeah, it’s great, and I will try my best to do well.”
Incoming Auburn University freshman Megan Schofill, and Louisville University senior Lauren Hartlage each finished one stroke back at 139.
USC’s Gabriela Ruffels, winner of the North & South Women’s Amateur last month, was part of a three-way tie for fifth.
Notably, two-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Julia Potter-Bobb, 31, was the lone mid-amateur of the seven in the field to make match play. It was her first time advancing to match play in the U.S. Women's Amateur since 2008.
“Yeah, I feel like a young 20-year old right now, a little bit of a throwback,” she said.
Need a guide to the Round of 64? Here are five first-round matches to keep an eye on:
10 a.m.: Gina Kim vs. Megha Ganne
Both of these players display talent that’s well beyond their age. Kim, 19, came off her freshman season at Duke and quietly contended at the U.S. Women’s Open. Ganne, 15, was also there, and one of the youngest players in the field. Both are former Drive, Chip and Putt national finalists.
11:10 a.m.: Albane Valenzuela vs. Sierra Brooks
It’s a real shame this match has to happen in the first round, because this showdown between two former Women’s Amateur runners-up (Brooks in 2015, Valenzuela in 2017) will feature some extraordinary golf. We last saw Brooks display calculated golf around the Blessings Golf Club in May for a runner-up finish at the NCAA Women’s Championship. She has made two pro starts since (the U.S. Women’s Open, and the Century21 Ladies Golf Tournament in Japan). Valenzuela had a breakthrough of her own by making the cut at the Evian Championship a week ago for the first time in five tries.
12:50 p.m.: Morgan Baxendale vs. Lucy Li
Lucy Li, the former Curtis Cupper, is always worth flagging in match play. At Old Waverly, she’ll take on a seasoned college player in Baxendale, who will be a junior at Vanderbilt. Li, despite being 16, has had plenty of match-play experience considering this is her fifth U.S. Women’s Amateur. She was a quarterfinalist here a year ago.
2 p.m.: Yuka Saso vs. Kaitlyn Papp
After medaling at the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago, Saso declared that she didn’t feel particularly confident in match play (never mind that she was a U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalist in 2016). She promptly played her way to the semifinals that week, too. Saso finished T-3 at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur to Papp’s T-5 finish. They might not be the two biggest names in women’s golf, but they are two of the toughest players who perform the best on the biggest stages. Expect a gritty battle between these two women.
2:30 p.m.: Brooke Seay vs. Stephanie Kyriacou
Brooke Seay has had all the experiences, from six U.S. Girls’ Juniors to playing the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open to the Junior Solheim Cup. Still, the incoming Stanford freshman will have her hands full with Kyriacou, an Australian who started her year by winning the Australian Master of the Amateurs. Kyriacou already has a full Australian summer of golf under her belt, with much match-play experience.