War Eagle Extra

Former Central golfer Alex Harrell ready to enjoy final rounds as an Auburn Tiger

Alex Harrell is set to compete in the SEC Championship at Greystone Golf Course this weekend.
Alex Harrell is set to compete in the SEC Championship at Greystone Golf Course this weekend.

Alex Harrell hardly has time to reflect on her collegiate career.

The Auburn senior spent the week preparing for her third SEC Championship appearance while balancing her final coursework, a preceptorship at Midtown Medical Center — an internship for nursing students — and finalizing plans for a career away from the golf course.

“It’s an exciting time all-around,” Harrell said.

Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham recently offered the thoughtful Central High School alum a position in the pediatric emergency room.

Harrell made the decision to mostly walk away from competitive golf more than a year ago. Working in trauma situations has more to do with Harrell’s generous spirit than recreating the pressure she faces on the golf course.

“I thought about it a lot — did I want to play professionally?” Harrell said. “I gave it some time, but after a couple months I realized I didn’t want golf to be a job. I didn’t want to put that stress on it. I love it too much.”

With her passion for the sport intact, Harrell heads into the back nine of her Auburn career content with the memories she’s made and eager to make a few new ones.

Highs and lows

Golf can humble the most talented and experienced of players.

Harrell, a two-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll with 80-plus rounds of competitive collegiate golf under her belt, had the worst tournament of career last month at the LSU Tiger Golf Classic.

She shot three rounds of 80-plus to finish the tournament at the University Club (par 72, 6,247 yards) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at 30-over par (81-81-84).

“It’s a really tough golf course that was completely new to me,” Harrell said. “I struggled mentally out there and really struggled with my irons.”

Harrell has shown remarkable consistency during a collegiate career spanning 31 events. She has a career average of 75.90 and 18-hole low of 68 with four top-10 finishes. As a sophomore, Harrell tied for medalist honors with Tennessee’s Chessey Thomas at the Lady Bulldog Individual Tournament at 3-over.

The LSU tournament was the first time Harrell shot 80 or more in multiple rounds of a tournament since her freshman year. During the same span, she’s shot par or better 14 times.

“What was important was that she showed no give up,” her mother April Harrell said. “I just told her she was the bug not the windshield that weekend, but that’s OK. Everyone is going to have those kind of days.”

Harrell’s first step rebounding from the challenging event was taking a day off.

“You can’t golf this long and play well every time, but I had to work it out mentally,” Harrell said. “ I sat down with my coach to analyze it. We looked at my stats and saw I was rushed. I was swinging way too fast. I generate a lot of power from my torso and hips. My coach had me work on a three-quarters swing to get back in rhythm.”

The work paid off with Harrell bouncing back at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic in early April with her best finish of the spring during stroke play. She shot a 4-over 76 to finish tied for 38th.

Harrell takes her rebuilt confidence level to Birmingham this week.

Auburn left Wednesday for this weekend’s conference showdown and had a practice round at Greystone Golf Course on Thursday.

Last year, the Tigers finished ninth in the conference at the course. Harrell was second on the team at 7-over. On the third day of the tournament, she had one of her best rounds of the season with a team-best 70.

“It was a great course to play last year, but it will be a completely different course this weekend,” Harrell said. “It rained last year leading up to the tournament, the practice round was rained out and it rained during the first round. It was like a monsoon.”

During her six-hour first round last year, Harrell used her experience at the tournament as a sophomore to help her stay focused.

“I just remembered being plus-5 through three holes as a sophomore, but I stayed positive and tried to stay in a zone,” Harrell said. “ I finished with a 73. I went four under the next 15 holes. You always have to stay patient.”

Powerful motivation

Maintaining a healthy perspective on the golf course and off comes easy for the 21-year-old Harrell.

“You do get frustrated out there, can get angry in the moment, but you have to let it go,” Harrell said. “It’s always been my personality.”

A personality shaped by her older brother’s tragic battle with Battens disease, a rare terminal disorder that occurs in an estimated two to four children out of every 100,000 births in the United States.

Matthew passed away in August before Harrell’s junior year as she was about to start nursing school and the fall golf season.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Batten disease is a fatal disorder of the nervous system that causes cognitive impairment, seizures, vision loss and movement disorders.

“He hit all his early milestones, but around 4 or 5 years old he started having vision problems and it progressively got worse,” Harrell said. “He started having seizures. For years, they thought it was autism. We didn’t know exactly what it was until he was 18 years old.”

The form of Batten disease Matthew Harrell had is fatal by the late teens or twenties. Matthew passed away at the age of 21.

“You can’t talk about the Auburn family enough,” Harrell said. “It’s the best support network in the world. When I lost my brother, they were all there for me. (Athletic director) Jay Jacobs called me. Everyone was there letting me know I was going to be OK.”

For Matthew’s funeral, many of Alex’s teammates came wearing Disney tee shirts as the family requested. Matthew always wore headphones, so coach Kim Evans came with a pair around her neck.

“It was during the summer, and we just wanted to keep it very casual,” April Harrell said. “They showed up in the Auburn team van dressed very appropriately. It was total overwhelming for her at times, but Auburn made sure there were always people there for her when she needed it.”

April Harrell said it wasn’t an accident her daughter plunged right back into both her roles as a student and athlete.

“I think staying busy helped,” April Harrell said. “The life of a student-athlete is very difficult and you add nursing school on top of it. It gave her something to focus on.”

Staying busy wasn’t just about a way of coping for Alex Harrell. It was a way for her to honor her brother’s memory the best way she knew how.

“I use it as a motivation for everything I do,” Harrell said. “I want to do all the things he couldn’t.”