A.J.'s back for another crack

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

They say time heals all wounds.

A decade after severe back and shoulder injuries forced her to withdraw from her first LPGA Tour event on home soil, Calgary-born A.J. Eathorne is optimistic a return to Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club will ease what's left of the pain.

"This tournament really means a lot to me," Eathorne said. "The last time I was here was for the event and I had to pull out and didn't get to finish it. For 10 years, it's been bugging me that I didn't get to finish a tournament in Calgary ...

"I've always wanted to come back."

Eathorne will get her wish Thursday, when the LPGA's US$2.75-million CN Canadian Women's Open tees off at the picturesque private track southwest of the city.

Eathorne, now 33, was a rookie when the world's top women's tour rolled into Calgary for the 1999 du Maurier Classic at Priddis Greens, but muscle spams prevented the pride of Penticton, B.C., from making much noise at her own national championship.

She struggled through six holes in the second round before reluctantly calling it quits.

"It was kind of a bummer," Eathorne said. "I was playing with Meg Mallon and Wendy Ward, and we were walking down the sixth hole, and they said, 'If you don't quit now, we're going to walk you into the clubhouse.' So I said, 'Alright, I guess I should quit now.'

"My mom was crying on the sidelines. It was very emotional. I was saying, 'I just want to play, I just want to finish.' But they said, 'You can't. Physically, you can't.'"

Eathorne will be one of a dozen Canucks in the field for the four-day tournament, including LPGA Tour regulars Lorie Kane and Alena Sharp.

Sue Kim, Jennifer Kirby, Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Kira Meixner, Jessica Shepley, Stephanie Sherlock, Ashley Sholer and Nicole Vandermade were each granted exemptions, while Red Deer's Adrienne White earned her spot in yesterday's qualifier at the Elks Club.

Eathorne also received an exemption, thanks in part to Canadian golfing legend Dawn Coe-Jones, who penned a letter in support of her bid.

"I thought it would be an injustice for her not be able to play in this national championship," Coe-Jones said. "If this is her last one, then it's an awesome spot."

Eathorne hasn't teed it up on the top tour since last October and could be on the back-nine of a professional career that has spanned a decade.

She has never won an LPGA trophy, but the 1997 Canadian Amateur champion has finished as high as third and has racked up more than US$1-million on the links.

She even made a few bucks on the weekend the last time the pros paid a visit to Priddis, working as a TV correspondent.

Still, it was no replacement for going toe-to-toe with the sport's brightest stars in the city where she was born.

"That's the one that meant the most, that hurt the most," Eathorne said. "It was hard enough as an injury -- I had a hard time just rolling out of bed without some serious help. That was probably the worst experience because I wanted it so bad. I waited two months for it, and it was kind of a let-down.

"So this week will be fun. It's not a redemption in any way, but I'm excited to come back and be healthy and just feel excited for it."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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