[PHOTO: Octavio Passos]

The ISPS Handa World Invitational marks the end of the LPGA Tour’s European swing, with the women’s tournament in Northern Ireland co-sanctioned by the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour and played concurrently with a DP World Tour men’s event. Both men and women competed for separate $US1.5 million prizemoney purses at Galgorm Castle. Here’s how Alexa Pano won the women’s side with a birdie on the third playoff hole after shooting a closing six-under 66.


Alexa Pano, -8 (closing 66)
Gabriella Cowley, -8 (70)
Esther Henseleit, -8 (69)
Ryann O’Toole, -7 (70)

What it means

Pano turned 19 on Sunday, but she’s a name golf fans have heard of for a decade now after having the early days of her junior golf career chronicled in the Netflix documentary “The Short Game” while competing at the US Kids World Golf Championship at Pinehurst. Subsequently, she qualified three times for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National and was the youngest participant in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019.

Rather than play college golf, Pano turned pro in 2022 and earned an LPGA card in Q-Series late last year. This was her 12th start of the 2023 season, and with her father, Rick, on the bag, Pano made her first top-15 finish of her rookie season her first career victory. She’s the youngest winner on tour this year, taking that title from Rose Zhang, and the eighth first-time winner on the LPGA in 2023.


“I’ve kind of been saying that I really wanted to win this event because it’s on my birthday. My best friend can contest it’s been for like two months. It feels so surreal that it’s happened.” – Alexa Pano

How it happened

Pano played an impressive final round at Galgorm Castle, but she got a little help along the way. For much of the day, it looked like LPGA veteran Ryann O’Toole was going to run away with the title, the 2021 Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open winner jumping out to a three-stroke lead after an eagle on the par-5 10th hole to get to nine-under. O’Toole would be the only player to reach that number.

The smooth sailing for the American ended on the 13th hole, a short par 4, when O’Toole made the only double-bogey on the hole all day, dropping into a tie with Pano at seven-under. O’Toole missed two putts inside five feet on the 15th and 17th for dispiriting bogeys. Even still, she had a chance on the final hole.

Pano started the day four off the lead at two-under, displaying resilience by responding to a bogey with a birdie twice on the back nine. She stepped up to the tee on the par-5 18th having birdied all three par 5s beforehand. A stress-free up-and-down from the greenside fringe for her ninth birdie of the round gave Pano the clubhouse lead at eight-under.

Still, all three players in the final group – Esther Henseleit, Gabriella Cowley and O’Toole – stepped to the 18th tee with opportunities to catch Pano. Birdies on the 15th and 17th meant Henseleit needed a birdie on the last to get to eight-under, while O’Toole and Cowley needed eagles.

All three reached the closing 443-yard par 5 in two. Henseleit two-putted from 45 feet, while Cowley hammered home a 30-footer to match Pano. O’Toole’s 10-foot eagle putt skimmed the left side to settle for fourth place.

Henseleit, Cowley and Pano went back to the 18th to begin the playoff, the seventh on tour this season, with all three searching for their first LPGA victory. Henseleit exited after missing a 15-foot birdie bid from the fringe on the first playoff hole. Pano and Cowley returned to the 18th after they both birdied.

Pano’s drive missed wide right into the trees, forcing her to chip out and give Cowley a decisive advantage. Cowley, 208 yards to the flag, put her approach on the front of the green, leaving 60 feet for her third eagle look of the day. Cowley nestled the putt four feet short of the cup. Pano settled for a two-putt par. The Englishwoman, who had not made a cut in her previous 11 career starts on the LPGA, pulled her chance to win as the ball barely grazed the left edge of the hole. They returned to the 18th again.

Pano took advantage of the birthday gift from Cowley, finding the fairway and then knocking her approach to the centre of the green, pin high. Cowley missed the 18th green for the first time all day, with her chip setting up a 15-foot birdie chance. Pano two-putted for birdie to force Cowley to make it to extend the playoff. Cowley missed wide to the right.

By the numbers

Pano earned $US225,000 for her victory. Previously she had made just $US33,548 on the LPGA Tour.

Best of the rest

Azahara Munoz, 35, posted her first top 10 since a T-2 at the 2020 Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open with a closing six-under 66, and Munoz’s best result since having her son Lucas in February 2022.

The 14-year tour veteran posted only one bogey in the final round in her charge up the leaderboard from T-16 to T-6, moving her back into the top 100 of CME points on the LPGA Tour.

“I feel like I needed something like this,” Munoz said. “I’ve been playing well but not getting things going. This definitely really helps.”

Another first-time winner

Daniel Brown’s wire-to-wire win proved far less eventful on the men’s side. His six-shot lead over Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of 2022 US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick, was cut to three at one point after making three straight bogeys on holes 11-13. But Brown, 28, rebounded with birdies on the 14th and 15th to reclaim control, paying off a 64-66-67-69 week for his first DP World Tour victory.