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Pano runs away in Dustin Johnson World Junior title defense
Alexa Pano (left) with runner-up Latanna Stone (DJ Junior photo)
Alexa Pano (left) with runner-up Latanna Stone (DJ Junior photo)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Alexa Pano is not very excitable during competition. Then again, the beauty of taking an eight-shot lead into the final round of an event is that you don’t have to get excited.

“My dad told me to play as if I wasn’t leading, as if I was behind,” Pano, 14, said of her mindset entering the final round of the Dustin Johnson Junior World Championship. “I tried to play the same way I did the first two days.”

That is to say that Pano was the picture of consistency at TPC Myrtle Beach. She was the only player in the 91-person field (which includes the boys field) to play without a bogey in Round 1. She only had one bogey in Round 2. It’s the statistic that set up her runaway. She was 7 under for the week while the next-best player was 5 over.

“I’m super comfortable with this golf course and I know it really well,” Pano said, adding that she had played it three times before last year’s 54-hole event and three times before this year’s event, too.

The next 24 hours represent an atypical turnaround for a junior. Pano is following the Dustin Johnson World Junior with a Symetra Tour start. She’ll play the season-opening SkyiGolf Championship in North Port, Fla., this week. It will be her second Symetra Tour start.

“I’ve always really liked hopping from one event to the next event,” she said. There is something to be said for getting on a streak, and that describes the past few months of Pano’s golf life.

She marked the end of 2018 with a win at the Dixie Women’s Amateur – her first in four starts. The new year began with a runner-up at the South Atlantic Amateur (the Sally), an Ione D Jones-Doherty Amateur title and a top-5 finish at the Buick Shanshan Feng AJGA Girls Invitational.

Pano hesitates when asked for 2019’s big goal before offering this: Win every time she tees it up.

“It kind of feels like this winter, (my game) has come together a bit which is a really good feeling – especially because I had a little bit of a struggle at the beginning of last year,” she said.

Alexa Pano
Alexa Pano
TPC Myrtle Beach was demanding this week, but a good tune-up for a professional start (in fact, boys winner Akshay Bhatia thought so, too). Pano is learning all the time, and since winning this event a year ago, she has built a new team around her. Pano has had a handful of lessons with new instructors Jerry Tucker and Chris O’Connell. She made gains in course management and attention to detail with her professional debut at last year’s Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic. She had played the Four Winds Invitational on the Symetra Tour a month earlier.

“It’s cool to watch how they do things differently than you do things,” she said of playing alongside professionals. “I thought that I competed really well, so getting to do it as much as I can is something I want to keep doing.”

Pano is a player to watch at her level, too -- sometimes even for players older than her. Alongside Pano in the final round, high-school seniors Latanna Stone and Jensen Castle battled for second. Stone ultimately got that honor when Castle missed her seven-footer for birdie on the par-5 18th.

“It feels like she’s the same age as me,” said Stone, a fellow Florida resident who is closing out her junior career while preparing for a spot on the LSU roster next fall.

Stone, who had rounds of 70-76-75 in Myrtle Beach, struggled with accuracy on Sunday but she hit every green in the first round.

“It was a struggle the past two days because I had some pretty dumb mistakes,” she said. Still, runner-up is her best finish here in three starts.

As for Castle, the bubbly South Carolinian, three days at TPC Myrtle Beach felt like home. She has befriended many of the tournament directors and volunteers in four years playing the event. After back-to-back opening rounds of 73, she closed with a 76.

“Today was really hard,” said Castle, who is headed to the University of Kentucky in the fall. “I would have played better if I could have putted.”

In the end, the southern hospitality around TPC Myrtle Beach made it all OK.


ABOUT THE Dustin Johnson World Junior

Started in 2016 by the Dustin Johnson Foundation, the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship is a 54- hole invitational event for Boys and Girls ages 13- 18. Those who do not meet the invitation criteria will have an opportunity to earn a spot via an 18-hole qualifier prior to the event.

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