Q&A with Alex Chiarella
May 14, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Hawaii native Alex Chiarella recorded back-to-back top-20 finishes before the COVID-19 hiatus. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
By his own admission, Alex Chiarella is a slow starter. He didn’t make a cut in his first three Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada events of 2019 … before winning his fifth event of the season. This year, his first on the Korn Ferry Tour, was more of the same – he missed the first four cuts before playing in the final group on Sunday during event No. 5.
But Chiarella, a Hawaii native who now calls San Diego home, knows this is just the start of what could be a lengthy professional golf career.
The 25-year-old spent a few minutes with PGA TOUR Digital chatting about his favorite places in Hawaii, why he came to the mainland in the first place, and where the special memento from his 2019 Mackenzie Tour victory is located.
When was the first time you came to mainland America?
I played four years of golf at (the University of) San Diego and that was my first time going to America – in 2012. Graduated in 2016 and really couldn’t leave San Diego; the city is amazing. I’ve been here ever since.
Why San Diego?
It was the closest I could get to Hawaii without actually being in Hawaii! I got the great weather, beaches everywhere around me, and a laid-back lifestyle. There’s a young population, and also a really good school. At the time Tim Mickelson recruited me (to the University of San Diego) and I committed as a junior, so it was really early. Tim seemed like a great fit, USD seemed like a great fit. I did an official visit at USD and the guys on the team seemed like a great fit. All around, it felt like a great fit to elevate my game and get a good education.
When did you get started playing golf?
I picked up golf clubs for the first time when I was 6. My parents took me to a clinic at Kapalua, where they play the Sentry Tournament of Champions every year. They had a little clinic when I was 6 and that was the first time I really got into golf. It was about a week long. At the end of it, we had a five-hole tournament with all the kids who just started. I played the five holes and I made five pars. At the time I was like, ‘Ah, I played pretty good. Whatever.’ I won by double-digits (laughs). One of the instructors came up to my parents and said, “I think you should really invest in getting Alex some lessons. It looks like he has some talent.”
Did you play other sports, too?
I loved every sport. I played any sport I could. I played basketball through high school. I was really into baseball and football when I was younger. Tennis … I just loved sports.
Were you dreaming of trying to get on the PGA TOUR growing up?
Honestly it didn’t come until later in my life. I always liked playing golf; I could go play golf with my friends – it was a very social thing for me. I started to get good late in junior golf and in high school. Even then, I wasn’t set on the PGA TOUR. I got recruited to college and I thought, ‘Boy, this is a great way to get a good education.’ I got to go to a nice school on a scholarship and it really wasn’t in my head from Day 1. As I started to get better at the game and progress, it became a goal.
How often do you return back to Hawaii?
Fairly often. I’ll go back at least twice a year but up to four times. Both my parents live over there and my extended family. A few of my friends are still home. I love going back home. It’s a great reset button for me to get away from the city and the hustle and bustle of life and go home, reset myself, and lay on the beach for a few days and see my family – it’s nice.
What’s the first thing you have to eat when you get back?
Either a poke bowl with fresh mahi, or a fish sandwich from Paia Fish Market – my favorite spot. Anything fish-related. We just have the best fish in Hawaii and I love fish. And grabbing a six-pack of some Maui Brewing Company beers is on my list as well.
So you could just grab some fish, some beer, and head to the beach and be content?
All day! I have a spot I go to, Tamura’s liquor store, but they sell the best poke in the back. I’ll pick up a pound of poke and a six-pack (or a 12-pack depending how long the day is and how many friends I’m with) and we’ll head to the beach. We’ll set up a little picnic and I could lie there all day.
Is there anything in San Diego that compares to back home?
It’s hard to compare. It’s the mecca of fish – Hawaii has just incredible fish. There is some good fish here like at PB Fish Shop. One of my favorite things to do in San Diego: every year they have a poke festival, and a lot of people from Hawaii put it on. It’s a competition and everyone makes their signature dish. They go there and sell Mai Tais and they sell every poke. They play Hawaiian music and it’s right on the water.
Before the break, how would you say your season has gone?
I’m seeing a trend in my golf game where I’m a late-bloomer when I get on a new Tour. I did this last year on the Mackenzie Tour. I missed the first (three) cuts, maybe just trying to adjust to my new environment on a new Tour – play golf courses I had never played before, travel to places I had never been before. I missed the first three cuts of the Mackenzie Tour last year and won my fourth event (laughs). I missed the first four cuts again (this year) and I was in the final group Sunday of that fifth event. I ended up finishing T20, but I finished T9 in Mexico, which really helped me. Let’s hope I don’t miss another four cuts after we get back from this break, but I’m feeling more confident this time (laughs).
Did you do anything with your swing at the beginning of the year?
I was comfortable with where my game was at. I don’t like tweaking something right when the season starts or mid-year. Right now (during the COVID-19 break), is the perfect time to try to tweak something. I’ve been recording my swing after hitting balls into the net and getting about as technical as I can during this break. I’m not technical at all with my golf swing. I’m a feel player usually. I’ve tried to get my swing more on plane during this time. I can video it and tweak some little things. It’s been a good break for me mechanically.
During your 2019 Mackenzie Tour win at the Lethbridge Paradise Canyon Open, you famously played all 72 holes with the same golf ball. Have you gone four rounds with the same ball again?
(Laughs). I don’t think that will ever happen again, to be honest. It would have to be the perfect situation where I hit no fairway bunker shots with a wedge, I hit no cart paths during any rounds, I don’t hit a tree, and I don’t lose a golf ball – which is pretty rare honestly.
Do you have it somewhere?
That’s the saddest story ever. I looked for it the other day and I think I lost it. I didn’t even lose it on the course … I lost it in my house.