On a soggy afternoon at the Vanderbilt Legends Club, a dozen or so men bundled in sweaters and rain gear lined the driving range. The ground had long been rain-soaked, and forecasters called for snow to begin falling shortly. The golfers’ dedication was impressive. That is until the worsening rain chased them en masse to their cars, leaving a grouping of weather-tolerant birds pecking at the ground littered with split tees and muddy footprints. And seemingly oblivious to her newfound solitude was a slender, underdressed woman wearing a lime-green pull-over, an Under Armour shirt, warm-up pants, and a Vanderbilt baseball cap.
Despite the worsening weather, Marina Alex, a Vanderbilt junior, 2010 SEC Player of the Year and All-America athlete, continued to hit ball after ball after ball, each one straight and each one long. Maybe she just knows that in order to get to the LPGA Tour, one must stay focused when inclement weather drives all but hungry birds from the driving range. After all, it hasn’t started snowing yet.
“Success in golf takes repeated repetition,” she says. “It requires, among other things, muscle memory—which takes a long, long time to develop.”
This wasn’t the first time Alex had outlasted men on the golf course. Before she was even a teenager in her hometown of Wayne, N.J., she entered the Boys’ Passaic County Championship. And won. Twice.
Apparently, the seeds of these and future successes were sown long ago. Alex began swinging a golf club when she was a toddler. When Alex was old enough to understand, her father began to provide structure to her budding game. After each of his golf lessons with a local pro, he would share with her what he had just learned. And she was a natural.
“I’ve always hit the ball straight,” she says. “I’ve always been in the middle of the fairway, even when I was a kid.”
During the summer months in New Jersey, she competed against her younger brother and their father on a local nine-hole golf course. They played every day. They still do, as a matter of fact, when schedules allow.
“They make me hit from the back tees,” she says. “But that’s OK. Half the time I still beat them.”
As her game developed, Alex entered tournaments against girls several years older so she could be challenged legitimately. And she excelled—so much so that schools from across the country recruited her.
Alex’s approach in the classroom seems to follow the same arc as on the golf course, which requires mastery of a broad swath of skills. Her course of study is an interdisciplinary one with an emphasis on economics and communications.
Alex’s formula for success on the golf course, if there is such a thing, seems to be a blend of old-school coaching peppered with technology. Her swing coach, 84-year-old Bob Toski, a former PGA Tour money leader who competed with the likes of Ben Hogan, preaches simple mechanics as the key to consistency. And she listens. That’s what she thinks about when she’s approaching her ball. Despite having rock music playing through her ear buds when practicing—she says it blocks out sounds of people talking nearby—she walks herself through the shot at hand within her head. Tempo. Mechanics. Outcome.
And her hard work is paying off. In addition to aforementioned accolades, Alex has already played in the U.S. Women’s Open, a rarity for a collegiate athlete who was then two weeks shy of her 19th birthday.
Alex chose Vanderbilt over several schools with noteworthy golf programs, including Wake Forest, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Arizona.
“There was no comparison between Vanderbilt and other schools. I value my education, plus I want to compete at the top level. Vanderbilt just spoke to me.”