Marina Alex has been elected to the LPGA Board of Directors as one of six player directors. What follows is a feature we did with her at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. The piece was done for the New Jersey State Golf Association and its magazine, NJSAGA Golf, which holds the copyright.
Marina Alex attracted a lot of attention at the recent U.S. Women’s Open Championship. There were several reasons why.
She grew up and learned her golf in Wayne, New Jersey, less than 40 miles from Trump National Golf Club. She finished the 72 holes tied for 11th place at 4-under par 284, the best finish of any of the 55 Americans in the field.
But her performance on the golf course, as remarkable as it was, was no less impressive than the poise and maturity she displayed outside the gallery ropes. On the biggest stage in her sport, in an atmosphere tingling with emotional energy. Marina Alex came up big.
If, as has been suggested, that she symbolizes what golf in New Jersey, particularly women’s golf, is all about, then the game is in good hands.
Alex started playing golf at age 5 at North Jersey Country Club at the encouragement of her father Steve. Her mentor was Chris Dachisen, who was in the midst of a long and distinguished tenure as the club’s head golf professional when Alex was growing up there.
“He was very encouraging,” Alex recalled. “He was a tremendous player and would take me out to play with my dad at nights and just was always giving me pointers and tips here and there and helping me along the way. He was great.”
Another influential figure in Alex’s golfing life has been her godfather Charlie Cowell who had a long career as the golf professional at Forest Hill Field Club. Cowell, who now teaches at Crestmont, walked nine holes at Trump National with Alex the Monday before the Women’s Open began.
“He’s been helping me with my putting for quite a while,” Alex says. He’s known me my whole life. He’s a great guy and helped me a ton.
“It’s great to talk with people that played it doesn’t really matter what level. They’ve won tournaments and they know what it’s like when you’re out there and it helps just to pick their brains a little bit.”
As a junior, Alex, who turned 27 on August 2, won the 2003 New Jersey Junior Girls championship. Two years later she reached the finals of the New Jersey Women’s Amateur before losing to Kelly Cramp. At Vanderbilt, she was a two-time All-American and a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. She turned professional after graduation and spent time on the Symetra Tour before earning her LPGA Tour card in the fall of 2013.
Since then, she has collected just over a million dollars in earnings, including $367,680 this season (through the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open the last weekend in July). Her best career finish to date has been a tie for sixth at the LPGA Volvik Championship in Michigan last spring.
The 2017 Women’s Open was her fourth, as well as her first and perhaps only opportunity to compete in a major championship as a professional in close proximity to where she grew up. “It’s an unbelievable experience just to be able to compete in any tournament close to home,” she said, “but the U.S. Open is truly incredible. There’s going to be nothing else like it probably in my career and there are not a lot of girls that are going to be able to get to do that ever. So it’s a very special feeling.”
This year’s Women’s Open was unique in that it was the first ever attended by a sitting U.S. President. Virtually every player who appeared in front of the media prior to or during the championship was asked about President Trump, who was on site the final three days of the event. Virtually every player did their best to avoid addressing the issue head on but Alex, who, as the local favorite, spent a considerable amount of time in front of the media during the week, was perceptive enough to see the big picture when she was asked about it Friday afternoon after completing her second round.
“Regardless of your political affiliation and whether you are a fan of Trump or you’re not a fan of Trump, having a president at a women’s golf event is pretty remarkable,” she said. “It’s going to draw attention to women’s golf that has maybe never been in our favor before.
“We have an unbelievable group of talented women playing golf right now. If it’s allowing more people to see us play our game, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
At week’s end. Alex had the demeanor of a competitor who had the satisfaction of knowing she had more than held her own against the best competition in the world.
“I’m really happy with how I handled myself,” she said. “It was tough going into it, I knew there was going to be a ton of fans and just a ton of pressure to play well and I handled it the best that I could. I’m pleased.””
Not surprisingly, Alex’s gallery abounded with family and friends all week long. But her followers also included girls and young women, some of them no doubt golfers themselves, others perhaps now curious enough about the game to want to find out more about it after having seen Alex and her peers up close.
“I see a lot of young girls out here,” Alex said, “which is awesome. It’s great for the game. It’s great for women’s golf in New Jersey.
“(When) I grew up, there were just not a lot of girls playing. If more girls pick up the game after this week, my job is effectively done. I hope that that’s what happens.”