Future Shepin' up nicely

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Jessica Shepley is no stranger to flying the Canadian flag.

Representing her country against the best women's golfers on the globe, though, was an eye-opener.

The up-and-comer from Oakville, Ont., made her LPGA Tour debut at the 2006 CN Canadian Women's Open at the London Hunt & Country Club, surviving the cut before finishing -- in her words -- "dead-last."

"The first time, I had the big eyes and everything was new and exciting," Shepley said. "This time, I think I have a little bit more of a competitive spirit and attitude. I'm still very happy and very fortunate to be there. But this time, I have a little more faith in my abilities, more faith in what I'm doing out there."

Shepley, 25, a two-time member of the national junior team, will make her second LPGA Tour start this week at the CN Canadian Women's Open at Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club. In her wildest dreams, she'll be trying to accomplish what so many others have been unable to from this country.

Legendary Jocelyne Bourassa of Shawinigan, Que., won the inaugural national women's championship in 1973 and remains the only Canadian to win an LPGA Tour trophy on home soil.

"Everybody wants to be that one to hoist that trophy," said Dawn Coe-Jones, a Canadian Golf Hall-of-Famer who won three LPGA Tour events and will work as an on-course reporter for CBC this week.

"Some Canadian girl has that dream, and I sure hope it happens. It'd be a wonderful story."

The Canadians in the field this week at the 6,427-yard course southwest of Calgary would be best described as long-shots.

Charlottetown's Lorie Kane and Hamilton's Alena Sharp are regulars on the top circuit, but neither has cracked the Top 20 yet this season, while Calgary-born A.J. Eathorne of Penticton, B.C., hasn't played an LPGA event since last October.

The list of Canucks granted exemptions to tee it up at Priddis Greens starting Thursday also includes Sue Kim, Jennifer Kirby, Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Kira Meixner, Stephanie Sherlock, Ashley Sholer and Nicole Vandermade.

If you don't recognize those names, you're not alone.

But Dean Spriddle, the Lethbridge-based head coach of Canada's national women's amateur team, cautions that's not necessarily an indication the up-and-comers aren't making noise.

"Not to blame you guys, but the media deals more with pro sport. If Mike Weir shoots 71 but one of our girls shoots 66 at an amateur championship, nobody hears about it," Spriddle said. "Then, all of a sudden, you get a few girls showing up on the LPGA Tour and it's like, 'Whoa, what happened?' There's no such thing as an overnight success in golf."

Golf history is chock-full of examples of competitors who have made a name for themselves by stringing together four solid rounds at the right time. The past few summers, several Canadian men have elbowed their way into the spotlight.

Nick Taylor snagged a spot in the U.S. Open. Matt Hill was tops at the NCAA championship. Calgary's Ryan Yip and Wes Heffernan and Strathmore's Stuart Anderson and Dustin Risdon have each won events on the Canadian Tour.

A solid performance this week would certainly be a good way for one of Canada's unknowns to step into the spotlight on the women's side.

If nothing else, it'll be a solid barometer of their progress as aspiring LPGA pros.

"When you're playing alongside the Lorena Ochoas and the Michelle Wies and the Lorie Kanes, they're going to see how their games stacks up," Coe-Jones said. "Each and every one of them will probably sit back that next week and say, 'Wow, what a great experience. I see what it takes.'

"Playing alongside a professional is the only way you can get that experience."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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