U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
For Stars of 'The Short Game,' A Long Look in the Rear-View Mirror July 16, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Tom Mackin

Five years after appearing in a Netflix documentary about junior golf, Amari Avery is competing in the 70th U.S. Girls' Junior. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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Even though 13-year-old Alexa Pano and 14-year-old Amari Avery live in Florida and Southern California, respectively, they’re good friends who frequently see each other at competitions throughout the summer, including this week’s 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Poppy Hills Golf Course.

The pair has also been exposed to the glaring media spotlight few of their fellow competitors have experienced. Both appeared with their fathers in “The Short Game,” a 2013 Netflix documentary that presented, at times, an unflattering view of the highly competitive world of junior golf.

“Alexa and I can relate to each other,” said Avery, who shot 2-under-par 69 in the first round of stroke play on Monday. “I watched The Short Game again recently, but I really can’t watch myself on TV. It’s not embarrassing, it’s just like, I get all cringey when I see it. It’s weird seeing my younger self on TV.”

“Every time I see The Short Game, I think back on things I said and just cringe, too,” said Pano, who shot 1-under 70 on Monday. “I see a lot of differences from then and now.”

Pano’s father, Rick, who initially said no three times to the documentary makers before agreeing to participate, believes there was ultimately a silver lining to the process.

“When I said yes, I told them OK, when you’re done with this, I want every young girl that watches to want to play golf,” he said. “I spoke with Justin Timberlake, one of the documentary’s producers, two years ago at Augusta National (where Alexa won Drive, Chip & Putt Championships in 2016 and 2017) and told him I have 500 letters at home from kids all over the world who watched it. In fact, there are probably 10 girls here this week who have said they are playing golf because of that documentary. So that part was good.”

Avery’s father, Andre, believes The Short Game will go down as the best golf documentary ever. But he feels very differently about Trophy Kids, a 2013 HBO film that also featured him and Amari. 

“That one caused me a lot of stress and depression,” he said. “Those guys that did that, knew what they were doing. They probably knew of my antics out on the course with my daughter when she was younger. They pinpointed me and said we can get this guy to act the fool and give our audience what they’re looking for. I kind of bit into it because I was looking for that media attention early on.”

Avery says that experience affected him profoundly.

“When I saw myself, I saw ugliness. But it saved us,” he said. “I would have stayed on that trend like other crazy golf parents. But after seeing yourself like that, and having millions of other people seeing you like that, you tend to want to just change. It made me more of an easygoing person. Yes, I still get a little crazy, but we all do because we’re human.”

Alexa Pano, 13, has gained notoriety as a subject in a Netflix documentary and winning two Drive, Chip & Putt titles. (USGA/JD Cuban)

Amari believes her father has changed, too.

“He treats me more as an older person, which is better,” she said. “Now we can kind of negotiate and talk about things. He can use big words and I understand him. I don’t mind having him on my bag (but not this week since a Condition of Competition forbids parents or guardians from caddieing during USGA Junior championships). We both changed and now we just work better together on the course.”

“After the Trophy Kids debacle, I have definitely changed and grown a lot,” said Andre. “I wish I had that platform to talk to parents now because I think I could give so much to them. Unless you’ve been in my shoes, you don’t know. People can say yeah, that guy was mean to his kid and whatever Trophy Kids portrayed me as being. But they don’t see the other side, when I’m at home with my kids doing homework or taking care of them when they’re sick.”

Rick Pano advises parents with talented junior golfers to be on the same page with their child’s instructor.

“The instructor is not with them seven days a week,” he said. “It’s not easy when it’s just the parent and child. That’s a stigma. Watch us for three or four days and then give me your opinion. It’s very different than the perception people have.”

Instructor John Battaglia, who is based at PGA West Golf Academy in La Quinta, Calif., has worked with Amari Avery for the past six years. He’s watched her grow physically and emotionally during that time.

“I’ve seen the whole family grow emotionally,” said Battaglia. “They have had experiences a lot of people out here haven’t had. There’s a whole bunch of negative stuff in those experiences that turns into a positive. I think they’ve already run into some mistakes, so they don’t have to run into them again. Some other people are going to make their first mistake this week. Experience is priceless.”

Andre Avery doesn’t dwell on the criticism generated by the documentaries.

“You have to keep going. There are times when I get upset, or Amari gets upset, and you have to keep pushing forward if that’s what you believe in. You have your own path, because at the end of the day, when all the cameras go off, it’s just you and your kid.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.