If Marina Alex feels nervous on the first tee at the Solheim Cup, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. During the 2013 matches, teammate Jessica Korda ducked behind a tree because she felt nauseous during her Solheim debut. For Alex, who has battled nerves throughout her career, she could suffer the same reaction when she competes in her first Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in two weeks.
“That could happen,” Alex said. “I have a lot of nerves and anxiety anyway.”
Alex did a great job of keeping those feelings at bay 12 months ago when she won for the first time on Tour at the Cambia Portland Classic. She’s worked with her instructor, Ian Triggs, on redirecting her thoughts when the negative ones begin to creep in. They’ve worked on developing specific swing thoughts for Alex to lean on when she gets nervous during a round. The thoughts are constantly changing, but never complicated. Maintaining a consistent grip pressure or slowing down her backswing are two examples Alex recalls.
“Something as simple as that can get your brain to not be focused on the other things that are happening,” Alex said.
While Alex doesn’t remember the specific swing thought she had in Portland, she does remember feeling as though she was having an out of body experience while coming from six-strokes back to win with a 65 on Sunday.
“I constantly needed to take the negative thoughts and keep pushing them aside and not let them overwhelm the moment and go back to basic things,” Alex said. “Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, not that I’m going thru the motions, but out of body. I really have to remind myself what was my swing thought for the day. What am I focusing on?”
Alex has struggled to maintain that hyper-focus since her victory. She recorded two more top 10s to close out 2018 and was disappointed when the season ended in November. She wanted to keep playing. Alex was excited for the return of the season and was eager to pick up where she left off the year before.
“Expectations were a bit high and you think every week you’re going to go out and be in contention and win a tournament,” Alex explained. “That’s not always how it happens.”
Alex didn’t have the return to competitive golf that she was hoping for. The stress of trying to make the U.S. Solheim Cup team weighed on her and as the dream became a reality, she felt more pressure to maintain her position inside the top 10 in the point standings. It wasn’t until May that Alex recorded her first top 10 of 2019, but she added two more in the second half of the season.
“I’ve been in my own head about it for months with making the team, not making the team,” Alex said. “Once I felt like it was within my grasp it was definitely a goal that I felt like I could achieve.”
In August, Alex locked up her position on the U.S. team via the Solheim Cup points standings. Now with the question of qualifying out of the way, Alex feels free to get back to focusing on just playing good golf.
“It’s easier to chase and not the easiest to hang to on to something you have,” Alex said about her position in the standings. “For me, that was the struggle. I’m glad I found a way to toss it aside and go out and play and it’s allowed me to go out and play better.”
Unlike some of the other rookies on Team USA who have competed in Junior Solheim Cup or Junior Ryder Cup teams, Alex doesn’t have as much team experience. But she loved being a part of a team during her four years playing for Vanderbilt University, where she was twice named SEC Player of the Year.
“It’ll be something that is a bond you’ll have with someone else forever,” Alex anticipates feeling about her first Solheim Cup experience. “[Golf is] such an individual sport and you’re really pushing yourself to be your best, but I think it’d be great to have that kind of feeling to want to help someone else.”
Alex might need a little help of her own on that first tee at Gleneagles. She’s anticipating the experience will be overwhelming. But as Marina Alex proved in Portland, it’s nothing she can’t handle.