Sharp aims for big season

IAN HUTCHINSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

A business trip kept Hamilton's Alena Sharp out of the loop until last week when she heard the news about Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C., and Oshawa's Angela Buzminski winning Duramed Futures Tour events on consecutive weekends recently.

Although anything can happen over the course of a season, a strong start goes a long way toward landing a spot in the top five on the Futures Tour money list at the end of the year, which earns direct entry to the LPGA Tour.

The consolation prizes aren't bad either as the next five on the money list get conditional LPGA status in 2010 and the next five after that get a direct ticket to the final stage of qualifying school, which is also a sweet plum for an outstanding season.

"I went that route in 2005," recalled Sharp of her pre-LPGA Tour days. "I started off well. I had a top 10 in Florida right away in '05 on the Futures Tour. I figured that was my best bet to get on tour instead of going to Q-school. I fell a little bit short, but with a win, that's great to have at the beginning of the year."

Sharp says she welcomes the presence of more Canadians on the LPGA Tour, a circuit that has seen the number of players from this country dwindle to just two in recent years with only her and Charlottetown's Lorie Kane playing full time these days.

While Canadians on the Futures Tour look for the next big step in their careers, Sharp is looking for one herself this year. By the time any Canadian makes it next year, Sharp hopes to have ended a period of eight years and counting without a Canadian win on the LPGA Tour, the last one coming from Kane in 2001.

As the Canadian wins were compiling on the Futures Tour, Sharp was in Morelia, Mexico, for the Corona Championship, an event in which she tied for 26th at the par-73 Tres Marias Residential Country Club.

After returning home to Phoenix, Sharp reported last week that she was feeling fine, perhaps a little congested, but showing no signs of the swine flu that has shut down Mexico and may become a pandemic. She says the outbreak became more evident as time worn on after her arrival in Mexico two weeks ago.

"Toward the end of the week, people were wearing masks and my mom called me on Friday and told me about this swine flu," Sharp said.

"Friday night, I went out to downtown Morelia with some friends for dinner. That's when I saw people wearing masks," said Sharp, adding that servers also had their mouths covered when she went out for dinner on Sunday evening.

However, the tournament carried on and her game is getting closer to peak form, according to Sharp.

"I didn't shoot over par once. I had only a few bogeys. I never had a double. I've been hitting more consistent every week. I'm really feeling like I'm building up momentum to be in the position to win a tournament this year," said Sharp, whose performance in Morelia was highlighted by a second round 68.

"I had a hole-in-one and I was five-under through nine and, on the back nine, I had three opportunities and they just didn't go in," she said. "It's a matter of just dropping a few putts. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks. We've got two tough golf courses coming up and Corning is always fun to play."

After participating in six events so far, Sharp will play in the next three tournaments before a hole in the schedule gives her a week off. She will then play at the State Farm Classic in early June, just before the McDonald's LPGA Championship, the second major of the season.

"I'm the type of player that, you start the year off and you get the rust off a little bit and just get the momentum going with so many weeks in a row," she said. "I just feel like my swing is really solid right now."

While improved putting could help, the next step to that elusive first LPGA win could be more about confidence than physical talent.

Sharp was painfully shy when she was an amateur dominating the amateur and national ranks, but has since come out of her shell. She says she has noticed the confidence in the body language of top players and admits that's something that would serve her well.

"Some of the girls have that grit, where they're bound and determined that they're going to play well," she said. "They walk around out there, knowing that they're going to shoot a good number before the day even starts. You can just see it in their body language.

"That's something I'm working on this year, to be more confident, walking around, knowing I belong out there," she said.


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