Marina Alex: An LPGA card and reality check

Marina Alex with her dad (and caddie) Steve at the Symetra Tour Championship.

Marina Alex walked off her last hole at the Symetra Tour Championship and declared it the happiest day of her golfing career. The 23-year-old had secured an LPGA card after her first full year on the Symetra Tour, making 14 consecutive cuts. She banked $39,804, good for third on the tour’s money list.

Her father, Steve, a scratch golfer who works for Pilot Pen and caddied for her the last two tournaments, was proud of the accomplishment. But he’s also a realist, and when asked how they planned to fund Marina’s first full year on the LPGA, Steve put his head in his hands.

The Symetra Tour, he explained, is done behind the wheel of a car. The LPGA, however, requires airline tickets and caddies, something Marina mostly did without this year.

“I’ve got about four months to put something together,” Steve said, “and I’ll start on that tomorrow.”

For parents and players who dream of LPGA riches, Alex’s cash-flow situation offers the only kind of check all dreamers are guaranteed: a reality check. The road to the LPGA is nothing like the men’s game. P.K. Kongkraphan won the Symetra money title with $47,283. Michael Putnam won the Web.com Tour money title with $450,184. The disparity only widens on the big tours.

“Every week is so important,” Marina said. “People don’t understand. The depth of the money is not great.”

There is no line of sponsors waiting to hand out money to college All-Americans on the Symetra Tour. And unlike on the PGA Tour, a card on the LPGA doesn’t guarantee a six-figure cushion of startup cash. Want to fly to the Bahamas and Australia for the LPGA’s first two full-field events? Get out your credit card.

Marina Alex graduated from Vanderbilt in 2012 with a degree in managerial communications and immediately turned professional. (Alex had a full scholarship to Vandy, which now costs roughly $61,000 per year.) She played on a sponsor exemption at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and made $6,579. Alex took that money and leased a 2012 Lincoln MKZ. Since June 2012, she has put 26,000 miles on it.

To help pay for LPGA Q-School ($5,500 entry fee for three stages), Alex’s old golf club, North New Jersey Country Club, put on a golf fundraiser. The 2010 SEC champion three-putted her 90th hole at LPGA International last year and missed her card by one stroke. Alex, from Wayne, N.J., set out on her first full season on the Symetra Tour with two sponsors: dad and grandpa.

With $20,000 as a startup fund to get her through the Symetra season, Alex used a push cart to save money unless her father was in town. (Roughly half the tour doesn’t employ a caddie.) If she stayed in private housing (which she did for eight of the 14 tournaments), her average weekly expenses were about $800. A hotel bill spiked her expenses to about $1,400 per week (with dinners at Outback and sushi joints). Plan on adding another $700 for players who hire a caddie.

Alex spent roughly $15,000 to travel the Symetra Tour, plus the $2,000 her dad spent to get her out to the season-opening event in Mesa, Ariz. Steve also helped out any time she played in an LPGA Monday qualifier or LPGA event on her conditional status. She spent roughly $12,000 of her dad’s money trying to make a check on the LPGA, which she did not. Alex played in four qualifiers and three LPGA events.

One of Steve’s closest friends works for Prudential and gave Marina a formula to use with her winnings. She first puts 15 percent of the check aside for taxes. She then calculates her expenses for the week and subtracts. If she nets $1,000-$10,000, she puts 10 percent aside for investment. For a payout more than $10,000, she increases it to 20 percent. The rest of the money goes back into the big pool to spend on future tournaments.

Earning an LPGA card is only half the battle. Once a player has that, she must next find a way to pay for the roughly $60,000 it takes to compete on the big tour.

Although you won’t find two more supportive parents than Steve and Marissa Alex, mom brought up the obvious when talking about 2014.

“The hard part is, she works so hard, and what if she doesn’t keep it?” she asked, knowing the answer. Back to Q-School or even the Symetra Tour again.

Alex spent three consecutive months on the road last summer. Dad called almost every day. Mom snapped pictures with her phone of father and daughter coming up their last hole at the Symetra Tour Championship.

It was a great year for Alex. But it only gets tougher from here.

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