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    Swanson: Alexa Melton’s approach to U.S. Women’s Open? ‘It’s just golf’
    • May 29, 2024

    A girl just wants to have fun.

    That seems pretty straightforward when you’re a kid winning junior golf tournaments: Hit it as straight as you can, get it in the hole in as few strokes as possible, show off your new trophy to your proud grandpa.

    Of course, anyone who’s kept at it can tell you golf is not nearly so simple. That you’ll have to deal with the elements, with rough stuff and sneaky undulation, with bad breaks and busted lip-outs.

    That you might find yourself spending hours and hours on the road in your Honda Accord, driving toward an uncertain future, finding it tough to keep it at the speed limit, because you want to arrive sooner than later, maybe to make up for lost time.

    Covina’s Alexa Melton is on that journey, and she’s making a pit stop this week – not entirely expected but wholly welcome – at the U.S. Women’s Open in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

    It will be Melton, a 23-year-old who had never before qualified for any USGA event, against nine of the top 10 golfers in the world, headlined by world No. 1 Nelly Korda, a six-time winner this season.

    Melton, who has earned $11,531 and made the seven cuts in 15 Epson Tour events since joining the LPGA’s developmental tour last year, vs. a high-powered field of 156 vying for a share of a $12 million purse.

    Melton vs. The World.

    Daunting, no?

    That’s why her goal this week is: Laugh. Shrug. Go out and play like she’s a kid.

    “I know it’s going to be challenging, this is the biggest stage I’ve ever competed on,” an upbeat Melton said after her first practice round at Lancaster Country Club. “But I guess I’m just more excited for the opportunity.”

    She’s soaking it all in. Appreciating every detail, all the amenities, including the candy station at registration, the range – “the range is so nice!” – the new Lexus courtesy car that came with just 20 miles on it.

    Now, if only Melton could play like she has a horrible toothache – minus the actual toothache.

    In true drop-something-heavy-on-your-toe-so-you-forget-about-your-headache fashion, Melton’s mouth was in serious pain when she qualified for the U.S. Open in April, shooting a 4-under (74-66-140) at El Macero Country Club to finish third and claim one of three available spots.

    The strain of golf seem like nothing compared to the two emergency root canals she needed, procedures that Alexa said were connected to a gnarly fall in a bathroom at a tournament a few weeks earlier. She stood up too fast and passed out, face-planting, knocking out a couple of teeth and busting her lip.

    And to think, Alexa decided she’d dedicate herself totally to golf because she was taking too many hits in soccer.

    She grew up playing softball and soccer year round, a natural athlete and competitor who was always the smallest kid on the team – so little, mom Tatiana said, that she’d have to wear a beanie beneath her catcher’s helmet.

    Of Rog Tengco’s grandchildren, Alexa was the only one to take him up on an invitation to learn golf. And, yes, starting at 12, she was good at it. So eventually, instead of soccer and softball, it became soccer and golf. And then, after a particularly brutal collision in soccer, just golf.

    Covina golfer Alexa Melton grew up playing softball and soccer before taking her grandfather, Rog Tengco, up on his suggestion that she come golfing with him when she was 12. (Photo courtesy Tatiana Melton)

    Melton remembers how on Tuesdays, she’d join 60 or so beginning golfers for Lizette Salas’ lessons at Azusa Greens Country Club, and how she’d feel inspired by the thought that nearby Azusa had produced a professional golfer: “If someone from my area can make it, then why not me?”

    Alexa didn’t tell a lot of people she golfed back then because it didn’t seem cool, but winning is always cool, and she was definitely doing that: Her 9-under at the the 2019 SCGA Women’s Amateur was the lowest score in relation to par in the tournament’s history. She won the prestigious Thunderbird International Junior, carding two late birdies for a 2-stroke win.

    South Hills High’s Alexa Melton won the Women’s SCGA Amateur Championship in July 2018. (Photo courtesy of the SCGA)

    Playing for South Hills High School, she tied for second at the 2018-19 CIF State Golf Championship and was the 2018-19 Orange County Register Golfer of the Year. Golfweek pinned her as one of 10 freshman to watch entering her first collegiate season at Pepperdine – where she was second on the squad with a 73.5 stroke average in six tournaments, including tying the sixth-best 54-hole score in Waves’ history by shooting 9-under at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.

    A good start, except that living in Malibu, nearby fires triggered her asthma and caused almost daily attacks. “That’s why I left Pepperdine,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

    She wound up transferring to Salas’ USC – and undergoing surgery in 2020 to address a deviated septum, sinusitis, and a broken nose, all of which, doctors told her, had her breathing in 30% of the oxygen she was supposed to be getting through her nose. “Not ideal,” she said. Nor is the fact that she’s allergic to grass, though she’s learned how to deal with that.

    Alexa never figured out how to get it going on the course at USC, though. It was never a good fit.

    She played in only three events as a sophomore, her best finish coming at the Sun Devil Winter Classic, where she played individually and took ninth. As a junior, she appeared in two events and finished no better than 50th.

    And then she found herself off the team as a senior, though she was able to keep her scholarship. She decided against transferring and playing for a third school, preferring to finish her USC career as NARP, or what athletes call us non-athletic regular people.

    Except she was still grinding. Still practicing. Heading home after classes Thursdays and spending all weekend at the course. Needing, at the time, to remind herself she’d accomplished her goal of using the game to pay for college, that there would be more golf ahead.

    Alexa Melton reacts on the second green during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on April 3, 2021, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    She spent that time experiencing golf for the fun of it again – very different from the high-stress tournament play that she dove back into on the Epson Tour.

    Tatiana has spent time on the road with Alexa, including on her daughter’s bag, and so she’s seen first-hand: “It’s tough. It’s tough. A lot of the girls are so hard on themselves, but it’s just golf.”

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    Alexa said Tatiana doesn’t know all that much about golf  – “she’s probably hit three balls in her life,” she laughed – but Mom’s message seems to resonate, especially after what Alexa experienced qualifying for her first major.

    “That’s what I’ve been trying to think about, that things aren’t as big as I think they are in my head,” Melton said, sounding undaunted a few days before the biggest tournament of her life. “Golf is hard, it really beats us up some days. But I’m trying to see the positives in it and, like, that it’s really, literally just golf.”

    Maybe it is that straightforward? Go ahead, Alexa, go out, hit it straight, get it in the hole, have some fun.

    ​ Orange County Register