AURORA, Ont. — Alena Sharp is comfortable at the CP Women’s Open. Finally.
Early in her LPGA career, this was a nervous week for the Hamilton, Ont. native. She wanted so badly to play well that she would try to force herself into having a great week, only to get dragged down under the weight of her own expectations. But making her 16th appearance at our national open, Sharp is now looking forward to the biggest week on her golf calendar.
“I just realized that everybody is here and they’re cheering for you and they recognize you, but they’re proud of you,” Sharp said Wednesday. “You don’t have to make them proud. They’re already proud.”
Sharp’s spot in the world of Canadian golf is as comfortable as it has ever been. Five years ago nobody would have guessed that Sharp’s name would come up in almost every conversation with the young generation of Canadian tour pros. By all accounts, during the earlier days of her career on the LPGA, Sharp wasn’t known as particularly approachable. Now, the 38-year-old’s phone is constantly buzzing from her young Canadian colleagues.
When then-17-year-old Quebec amateur Celeste Dao qualified for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open, it was Sharp who helped her feel comfortable around professionals. Like many of the young Canadians, Dao stays in touch with Sharp through text messages.
Then there is Brooke Henderson, who singled out Sharp as a trusted friend and mentor during an interview for the Postmedia Female Athlete of the Year award in 2018. The two represented Canada together in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and played together as a team last month at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, where they finished fifth.
“I think at the beginning it was more of a mentorship, and now it’s more of a friendship,” Sharp said of Henderson. “I’m not shy to ask her about advice on things about a shot or something. We had a great time playing the team event. It was just really cool. It’s blossomed into a nice friendship.”
As for Sharp’s transformation into a trusted mentor to Canadian golfers, she gives plenty of credit to her caddie and life partner Sarah Bowman. The pair went public with their personal relationship in 2017, and both Sharp and Bowman are frequently in touch with Canadian players who are trying to adjust to life on tour.
“It just kind of fell in my lap and Sarah, who’s my caddie here, we really enjoy being there for them,” Sharp said. “It’s not just me, it’s Sarah also. She might text them, ‘Are you doing OK? Do you need anything?’ We just both love to give back.”
A funny thing happened along the way. At an age when most players are winding down their careers, Sharp is playing some of the best golf of hers. She enters the week 58th on the LPGA money list with nearly $250,000 US in prize money, and is safely inside the top 100 to retain her tour card, and also inside the top 80, which will get her in the tour’s top priority category.
Sharp is still chasing her first LPGA victory, with her best finish a T4 at the 2016 CP Women’s Open. Prior to 2019, Sharp had nine top 10s in 286 career LPGA tournaments. This year, she has three top 10s through 17 events. Sharp began working with Brett Saunders last year and says she and the swing coach — who also works with Adam Hadwin — have developed a long-term plan that gives her a level of confidence she hasn’t had before.
Asked what she gains from her relationship with Canada’s next generation of golfers, Sharp is quick to answer.
“Youth,” she said. “I feel a lot younger when I’m around them. We laugh a lot. It’s nice because a lot of my friends have retired. So it’s nice to be around the young kids.”
As for finally embracing the CP Women’s Open and not letting the pressure get to her, Sharp is optimistic but asked us to keep an eye on her this week at Magna.
“If you see me stressing out there, remind me what I just said.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019