Only thing on VU golfer’s shoulder is her bag

Monday, May 18, 2009 at 11:41pm
Marina Alex / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

Maybe it’s just her personality. Or perhaps there’s no room, what with the golf bag there so often. Whatever the reason, Marina Alex is not one carry a chip on her shoulder.

The Vanderbilt freshman, by way of Wayne, N.J., is motivated by the notion that she can, not by being told she can’t.

It’s noteworthy, therefore, that VU coach Greg Allen pointed out to Alex last week it is possible for an individual qualifier to win the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship. Alex, after all, is exactly that for this year’s event, which begins Tuesday at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mill, Md., much as Heather Bowie of Texas (1997) and Stacy Lewis of Arkansas (2007) were when they captured national titles.

“You tell her things like that and it gets her fired up,” Allen said. “She’s excited and she’s been working hard.”

Alex became an individual qualifier, which was something no other Commodore ever had done, when she finished fifth at the NCAA East Regional. At the start of the final round of that event, Vanderbilt was in position to qualify as a team, but several players struggled and Alex was left to continue on her own.

“It won’t change my approach,” she said. “It’s just the atmosphere, and being there will be different when I don’t have my four other teammates with me. I will have both my coaches, which is nice. It’s just different. I’ll be a little more alone.”

The first time she was told she could, at least in relation to golf, she was four years old. Her father Steve, an accomplished amateur in his own right, put a club in her hands and taught her the basics.

About the time she reached high school, she decided she wanted to get serious about the game.

There was no women’s golf team at Wayne Hills High, but she was told she could participate on the men’s team. For four years, she played in the No. 1 position.

As both a junior and senior she won the county tournament on a course that was stretched to nearly 6,800 yards, which she believed was in direct response to the fact that people were quite certain she could – and would – win otherwise.

“I took pride in that,” she said. “They made it challenging to try to get me to not win. Some guys in particular just didn’t like being beaten by a girl. I could see frustration in their faces when they were playing, or when they’d walk off after a nine-hole match and I’d beat them by a shot.”

When she began her college career in the fall, Allen told her she could be part of the Commodores’ tournament lineup – provided she earned the right.

In a standard qualifying round to determine which five team members would play in the Mason Rudolph Women’s Championship in late September, she birdied four of her last five holes and rallied to win. Then she went out and was the Commodores’ top finisher (sixth overall) in the Mason Rudolph, the first event of her college career, which she capped with a chip-in eagle on the final hole.

From there she quickly became VU’s No. 1 player, and at the end of the regular season she was named all-freshman and second-team all-conference by the SEC.

“This is a pleasant surprise, actually,” she said. “I came here really hoping to make an impact on the team and to play well. And I really have this year. Going to nationals is really nice.”

Although she has three years of college remaining, Alex says a professional career is her goal. Allen, who helped develop some of the world’s top players when he was coach at the University of Arizona, sees no reason that she can’t have one.

“I’ve told her that I’ve been fortunate enough to coach some great players,” Allen said. “Lorena Ochoa and Allison Walsh are two of them, and every time one of them teed it up I felt like something special was going to happen. At times, I feel that way about Marina.

“She’s definitely the future of Vanderbilt women’s golf. … I think we’re going to see some great things out of her in the next three years and – hopefully – starting (this) week.”