Sharp focuses on major priority

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

A strong finish to the season would make Hamilton's Alena Sharp priority one to get into 2009 events on the LPGA Tour, which has changed the criteria for how players gain access to tournaments.

Sharp, who was 76th on last week's tour's money list, is Canada's top player on tour this year, but she also runs the risk of slipping below the top 80 who earn top priority status for getting into tournaments next year.

In previous seasons, Sharp would have tried to avoid slipping below the top 90 on the money list, which would have earned her a trip back to qualifying school if she wanted to regain exempt status on tour.

But in a move that officially hasn't been announced to the public, the tour told its players in March that it is implementing a system that establishes a priority list for access to tournaments.

While the top 80 from this year's money list will have top priority early in next year, the tour will reshuffle regularly to ensure players who are successful early next season are not denied entry into tournaments. Players who win three Futures Tour events in one season also will gain LPGA membership.

How the priority list will break down below the top 80 or how often the tour will reshuffle players' status has not been announced, but Sharp isn't overly concerned with the new setup.

"It's not going to be exempt and non-exempt any more," said Sharp, who says she still would play regularly, even if she did fall into the second priority group.

"It's going to be priority A, B, C, so if I was to drop outside the 80, I would still get to play in every tournament because there's no way I would drop outside of 85 with the money I've made this year."

Sharp says the first reaction on the part of players was shock, but once they understood what was happening, the new setup has been accepted for the most part.

"I think a lot of people were like: 'Wow, 80,' but once you read each category, it's going to be better for the tour. The stronger fields are going to be out here every week. It's going to be good for the sponsors, good for the fans," said Sharp, adding the new system also allows second chances.

"There are a lot of players who don't get to play because they had a bad year last year and they've played decent this year, but they haven't been shuffled into the mix.

"Next year, it's going to allow those players who didn't play so well this year or at Q-school, but have some sort of status, to come out and play some good tournaments at the beginning and they'll be able to play in most of the fields the rest of the year."

Sharp says that, instead of being concerned about dropping on the money list, she is instead focused on upward mobility that will ensure a spot for her in the top priority grouping for 2009.

"I'm trying to get top 70. That's my goal. I want to play in the Kraft (Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season) and all those other tournaments at the beginning of the year, so that's what I'm looking to reach for and I'm not far off that and I still have my good tournament left.

"I could jump up inside the top 40 still. I've still got lots of events left," Sharp said.

Veteran Lorie Kane, Canada's other tour regular, sat 126th on last week's money list, but likely will play regularly next year because of her past champions status and position on the career money list.

THE SHORT GAME

After the conclusion of the Jane Rogers Championship of Mississauga yesterday at Lakeview Golf Course, the Canadian Tour continues its Ontario swing with the initial Seaforth Country Classic this week. For more information, see the websites www.cantour.com or www.seaforthcountryclassic.com ... Barrie's Stephanie Sherlock has been named to the Canadian team that will play at the 2008 World Amateur Golf Team Championship in Adelaide, Australia, along with Maude-Aimee LeBlanc of Windsor, Que., and Kira Meixner of Richmond, B.C. The event is Oct. 8-11. Georgetown's Mary Ann Lapointe will serve as Canadian non-playing captain.


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