Kane, Sharp feel host pressure

TODD SAELHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

The Maple Leaf brings out pride.

It can also bring out butterflies, pressure and a few unexpected reactions from athletes carrying the hopes of a host sporting nation.

Just ask Canuck golfers Lorie Kane and Alena Sharp about stepping into the spotlight at the US$2.5-million CN Canadian Women's Open.

"It's an incredible feeling when you hear the crowd roaring for you," said Sharp, a Hamilton native looking forward to her sixth Canadian Women's Open.

"I played pretty well last year and was in a later group on the Saturday, but I stepped up and snap-hooked my drive off the first tee and dribbled it around for a bogey."

Nerves, she called it.

The jitters come with the territory while flying the Canadian flag, and it'll likely be the same for Canuck golfers Sept. 3 when they step up to the tee-box at Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club.

Calgarians will be there watching and cheering on the home-grown LPGA Tour talent, just like they did 10 years ago when the du Maurier Classic took centre stage at the course just southwest of Calgary.

"I get goose-bumps thinking about 1999 playing at Priddis," said Kane, a PEI native playing in her 14th Canadian Women's Open/du Maurier Classic. "I remember stepping out of the starter's tent on the first tee when they announced my name and the crowd was cheering.

"I swear a hockey game broke out. I stepped back into the tent and wanted to hide."

Of course, there's no place to take cover from hopeful fans while on the course -- and neither of Canada's top female golfers would have it any other way.

"You feel the pressure -- there's more media requests, and everybody's cheering for you," Sharp said. "You go by marshals on the course, and they all say, 'We're behind you -- do it for Canada.'

"But I like it -- I like the support behind me."

Kane, 44, has felt the home-country backing full-on given her past success in the annual event.

Back in 2000, she was leading the du Maurier heading into the final round at Royal Ottawa. She finished fifth.

One year earlier, Kane tied for sixth in the du Maurier at Priddis Greens, so feeling the encouragement of a nation on home soil is hardly strange.

In fact, Kane says she's learned to use it to her advantage.

"We get that all the time -- the added pressure of expectations of the country," Kane said. "But I've learned that Canadians just want us to have fun and be the best we can. Canadians are golf-crazy people, so the support has been fantastic. It's just a way to keep you going.

"Knowing you have that support is the extra club in the bag."

These days, the veteran golfer can use a little boost.

It's been a bumpy few years for Kane on the LPGA Tour, including this season, which has seen her compete in just 11 events and earn a career-low $19,074.

"I can't put my finger on it other than that I've possibly been trying too hard," said Kane, who received the Order of Canada in 2006. "I'm spending too much time trying to be perfect. But I feel very good, and the results have shown that. I think I'm coming on an upswing after a downswing. I don't believe I've achieved my potential."

Many pundits believe Sharp, 28, has yet to reach her full capabilities and is Canada's best hope at the 2009 CN Canadian Women's Open.

Through 15 events this season, the 1999 Canadian Junior champion has pocketed $89,986. And while Kane is still the undisputed voice of women's golf in Canada, it's Sharp who boasts the talent to be the nation's next champion.

"Definitely, I want to be that person," said Sharp, who carries lucky Canadian coins in her golf bag. "I was talking to friends the other day about 2007 being my best year money-wise but how this year I feel like I'm playing my best golf.

"I haven't had a Top 10 finish since 2007, but I feel like I'm playing better golf right now," Sharp continued. "It's coming around. I feel like I have a good finish in me and I'll get going. At the beginning of the year, I was hitting greens but didn't feel I was putting that great. Now, they're both on, so we'll see. I really think it's going to be a good week. I'm looking forward to it. I've got to go out there and get on that first tee and not fear anything."

And, of course, the Canadians need to use the force of the home country.

"Alena is playing some very steady golf right now," Kane said. "But in order for either of us to win, we've gotta have all our ducks in a row.

"I'm going to leave it all on the course. I'll be out there playing my heart out."

TODD.SAELHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos