You may or may not be that familiar with Marina Alex, whose second round 70 in the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open lifted her to eight-under par and into a tie for fourth place, two shots off the pace at the halfway mark. But, even if you follow women’s golf only peripherally, chances are you watched this likeable 29-year old American play at least a few holes last year.
Those holes were at Gleneagles in Scotland, during the Solheim Cup matches between the United States and Europe. The whole shebang came down to the final hole of the final match on the final day. That match was contested by Suzann Pettersen and Alex.
Pettersen it was who holed the winning putt, a five-footer for birdie on the 18th green. But here’s the thing. Rather than leap around in celebration with her teammates - as so many tend to do these days - and leave her opponent standing there like a prune, the first thing the Norwegian did after the ball fell into the cup was embrace the American. It was the perfect sporting gesture, one that spoke to the level of respect the victor had for the (narrowly) vanquished.
“We had a great match,” says Alex, who scored two points from her four matches. “We both played really well. And yes, I was touched that Suzann was thinking clearly enough to give me the honour of that hug at the end, before she did anything else. There was a mad rush to her after we parted, but that was totally fine. The whole week was an incredible experience. I lost only that last match and it didn’t even feel like a loss. And it has taught me that I have the golf in me to succeed even when the pressure is suffocating, like it was at the Solheim. I elevated myself that week, at least in my own mind.”
That confidence boost won’t do Alex - who has one LPGA victory to her name, the 2018 Cambia Portland Classic - any harm over the next two days, of course. Nor will the fact that she has already played 36-holes on a top-class course in sometimes trying weather and has dropped only one shot. Even the two leaders, Inbee Park and Jodi Ewart-Shadoff cannot make such a claim.
Still, a high level of consistency is nothing new for Alex. In her last 75 LPGA appearances, she has 17 top-tens and only 11 missed cuts. All of which is a tribute to her swing coach, Aussie Ian Triggs.
“Yesterday I hit the ball really well but wasn’t too comfortable on the greens,” admitted Alex, who is currently ranked 33 in the world and has career earnings on the LPGA Tory just short of $3m. “The conditions were much easier though. Today, I got into another god groove with my ball-striking and I holed-out better. I pieced things together pretty well and played well. In a sense, 70 today was a better score than 68 yesterday. My course management has been particularly good. I’ve missed a few green but in the right places. And when I’ve been in-between clubs, I’ve identified the best place to be if I did miss. Sometimes it’s okay to be 30-feet way short or long, especially when it is windy like today.”