The “women’s” in U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball that begins on Saturday is not a misnomer, though it is flirting with it. The average age of the contestants in the USGA’s first championship of 2019 is 20.3.
One of the youngest teams is among the most intriguing of the 64 in the field at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla.
Alexa Pano, 14, of Lake Worth, Fla., and her friend Amari Avery, 15, of Riverside, Calif., were among the eight 7- and 8-year-old kids featured in the 2013 documentary, “The Short Game,” from the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championships in Pinehurst, N.C. The film depicted kids driven to excel, some by overzealous and/or overbearing parents.
Pano, at this point, has progressed much faster than Avery. Pano is 66th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Avery 500th. Pano already has played in an LPGA event, the Thornberry Creek Classic last year, recently played in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur and was in a position to win the Symetra Tour's SKYiGOLF Championship before tying for eighth. She also is a two-time winner of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National.
The youngest player in the extraordinarily young Four-Ball field, meanwhile, is Avery Zweig, 12, of McKinney, Texas. The youngest team by average age (14) is that of Kiara Romero, 13, and Athena Nguyen, 15, both from San Jose.
Among the more prominent names in the field are those of former U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Erica Shepherd, 18, of Greenwood, Ind., and Rachel Heck, 17, of Memphis, Tenn. Shepherd, who is headed to Duke in the fall, played in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, while Heck could have, but opted instead to play in the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration.
Shepherd is playing with future Duke teammate Megan Furtney, 18, from South Elgin, Ill.; the pair reached the semifinals in this championship last year. Heck is teaming with future Stanford teammate Sadie Englemann, 16, of Austin, Texas.
The defending champions are a pair of college teammates at Colorado State, Katrina Prendergast and Ellen Secor.
The teams will play two rounds of stroke play on Saturday and Sunday, with the top 32 advancing to match play. The semifinals and final are scheduled for Wednesday.