EAST PALESTINE - The road to becoming and maintaining status as a professional golfer isn't exactly a smooth, paved downhill cruise.
Not only does a professional have to keep up a certain level of play on the course, they've got to deal with all sorts of logistical issues off it.
Alexandra Casi, a 2002 East Palestine graduate and member of the Symetra Tour ("Road to the LPGA"), has found out all about it in her first two years as a pro.
After picking up her first professional win in 2011 at the SunCoast Ladies Series in Florida, Casi had hoped it would be a springboard for 2012. While in some ways it was, she admits the experience has been a lot of learning on the fly.
"The first year on the Symetra Tour, I really didn't know how to pace myself," Casi said. "By the end of summer I felt a little burnt out. Now when I do need a day off, even though it's hard for me, I take it. Because when you're 110 percent focused all the time, you've got to know how to pace yourself."
Casi played in 11 tournaments in 2011 on the Symetra Tour where her best finish was a tie for seventh at the Alliance Bank Golf Classic. She followed her debut year with nine more tournaments on the tour in 2012 and she even made her LPGA debut at the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Va. in September after making the event through a Monday qualifier.
"I had done three Monday qualifiers before that, and I kept missing by one shot," she said. "I felt like if I was playing well enough to get into the tournament, I could really do something. Even though it was just one tournament, it was a little bit of a milestone for me. I was disappointed in the outcome, but it's a good experience to have under my belt."
Although Casi was a four-year letter-winner on the boys golf team at East Palestine and played collegiate golf at the University of Maryland, she said said she didn't really didn't hunker down towards becoming a professional until around 2007.
"I met my swing coach then," she said. "He's had a progression in the way he's taught me. He did one thing at a time and has been my full-time caddie. It wasn't until this year that I completely understand my golf swing and what I want to do. We've fixed little things here and there along the way, and 2012 was a lot better than 2011."
While her golf game found more solid ground, finances have posed a new set of problems. Expenses - travel, hotels, Monday qualifier fees in addition to anything equipment related - mounted quickly to the point Casi had to take a break by summer.
She said with help from sponsors she didn't have to worry about money her first year on tour. But in 2012 with less available financially to fall back on, golf under pressure took on a whole new meaning.
"The hardest thing about it is that I gain momentum, and then I lose momentum," she said. "There's an added element when you have to do well or you're going home, and you can put a lot of pressure on yourself. But I've played well when I've had to, and it's going to make me better in the long run."
Casi also said the break was a blessing in disguise.
"I got to work what I needed to work on," she said. "When I went back out I was in jeopardy of having to go to stage one of qualifying school, but I finished 13th so I didn't have to go back. Physically and mentally things were going my way, but I had to miss the next week on tour. You've got to strike when you're hot. I was out of money, though."
Now with November rain and soon snow, Casi is hoping to get the word out to potential sponsors so she can spend her third year as a pro - all of it - on tour.
"The goal on the Symetra Tour is to finish top-10 so I can get my card for the LPGA," she said. "But I really need to play a full season and not have to stop to give myself a chance at it. I've been really fortunate with some of the people in the area, but I've got to get back out there. Once you live this lifestyle, and I have a passion for it, I'm not gonna let go until I'm successful on the LPGA Tour."
Casi continues to work on her game and hopes potential future sponsors aren't far off. Anyone interested in contributing or becoming a sponsor can contact Alex directly at email@example.com. She hopes to be able to represent future sponsors successfully the same way she's done in the past.
"The first year out, everything was new," she said. "Now I know how to better manage my budget and expenses as well as my game. The third year is kind of where everything comes together, but I don't ever want lack of finances to reflect on how I play. Hopefully I can get back out there soon and keep proving myself."