CLIFTON, N.J. — After a long, enervating journey, Marina Alex finds herself at the Cognizant Founders Cup as the event's hometown hero.
Less than two weeks ago, Alex edged world No. 1 Jin Young Ko — “out of nowhere,” she says — to win the Palos Verdes Championship — her second LPGA win and her first since 2018. Now, she arrives at Upper Montclair Country Club, roughly 15 minutes from where she grew up in Wayne, New Jersey, as the LPGA's most recent champion.
"It's been a roller coaster,” the 31-year-old said Tuesday. "It's been really cool, though ... I think the timing has kind of been insane, mainly because I've gone from the win, which was incredible. It's been a long time. Now I'm heading into this week, which is a really big home game."
In 2020, when the LPGA went into a hiatus because of COVID, Alex worked out twice a day, but wasn't able to work on her game. Once the tour resumed in July 2020, things didn't feel the same. She played four events, but had to shut it down due to a back issue.
"I felt like I was in great shape," she said, "but I think I put myself in a very vulnerable place because once I restarted walking, playing a lot of golf, my body was just like, 'Whoa, what are you doing?'"
She targeted a return that December, but in doing so, she suffered a major setback.
"I tried to push myself to come back for U.S. Open and [CME Group Tour Championship] that year, which was a mistake," she said, "but I didn't know any better. Finally, another doctor was like, you really just need to take another seven weeks off of not swinging, and I was like, 'Already? I've already taken almost three months off.'"
Seven weeks, however, turned into seven months. At that point, she questioned her future, saying after her win two weeks ago, "I wasn't sure if this would ever happen again."
The turning point was when she started to work with Claude Harmon III and entered 2022 with a refurbished mindset. And now she feels that maybe the setbacks were a blessing in disguise.
"It was a long process, but I think, in the end, I'm hoping that it's allowed me to properly heal a bit and rebuild strength," she said. “I'm hoping that that's not something I'm going to have to deal with in the immediate future, but I think if I take care of myself the right way, which I have learned over time now, it's just changing my routine and changing my habits a bit."
This week, Alex is looking to put another cherry on top of her comeback story in front of friends and family. Winning aside, she’s also just hoping to fare better than the last time she teed it up at Upper Montclair Country Club.
"I played at a U.S. Junior Qualifier (here) when I was 12, and I'm pretty sure I shot, like, 93. That's my only memory," she said laughing. "I'm hoping I really improve on the 93, if I'm being honest."