August 25, 2012
Canada's in good shape on the golfing stage
By TODD SAELHOF, QMI Agency
COQUITLAM, B.C. - All Canadian eyes are on Jessica Shepley at the Vancouver Country Club.
And the Oakville, Ont., product is just fine with that.
But having just one Canuck make the weekend rounds of the 2012 CN Canadian Women's Open is not ideal in the eyes of Golf Canada, even though tournament director Sean Van Kesteren believes it's no reason to be negative about the women's game in our country.
What started out as 15 Canadians in the US$2-million LPGA Tour event -- most by way of exemption -- was pared Friday night to one, Shepley, as LPGA full-timers calling Canada home, Lorie Kane, Alena Sharp and Rebecca Lee-Bentham, fell one-by-one by the wayside.
"We don't have any concerns at this point," Van Kesteren said. "Sure, we'd like to see more Canadians make the cut here. But it is a difficult event.
"You have 150 of the top female golfers in the world here, and it gets cut down to 70," Van Kesteren continued. "It's not like with the men at the Canadian Open, where the (PGA) field (to start the tournament) isn't as deep to begin with. These are all the top women.
"And every year, it gets tougher and tougher, because every year, more women are wanting to play golf on the LPGA Tour."
With an upswing in LPGA events will come a better chance at improvement among female Canadian stars.
Shepley, for one, holds conditional -- or 'part-time' -- status on the tour, meaning she is on a wait-list weekly to get into LPGA events. Because the season features just 27 events -- down from low- to mid-30 count the tour can realistically sustain -- the top stars take less tournaments off, leaving Shepley to scrounge for starts where she can, which often means playing on the LPGA's development circuit, the Symetra Tour.
A handful more LPGA tourneys added to the schedule would give Shepley more opportunity to play.
Fellow Canadians Stephanie Sherlock, 23 from Barrie, Ont., and Isabelle Beisiegel, 33 from Sainte-Hilaire, Que., and Kirby Dreher, 25 from Fort St. John, B.C., and Samantha Richdale, 27 from Kelowna, B.C., are in the same boat. Like 29-year-old Shepley, they have only themselves to blame for not scoring better in qualifying or during last year's tour schedule for exempt -- or full-time -- status this season.
"It is ideal? No," said Van Kesteren of the number of LPGA tourneys the last couple of seasons. "We'd like to see it get back to 35, 36 tournaments a year.
"And it's starting to pick up."
That's thanks to the ecomomy.
But that still doesn't address raw talent.
Canadian golf fans were robbed this week of the chance to see long-baller Maude-Aimee Leblanc, a 23-year-old rising star from Sherbrooke, Que, due to a season-ending back injury. Leblanc is tops among LPGAers in longest average drive, at 282 yards.
And of course, 14-year-old Brooke Henderson, of Smiths Falls, Ont., made plenty of noise with success this summer and was the national story coming into the CN Canadian Women's Open.
"There hasn't been a lot of progress (among Canadian golfers) in the last few years, but the needle is about to move forward," Van Kesteren said. "Maude-Aimee Leblanc will move the needle when she gets healthy.
"Brooke Henderson will, hopefully, be a contender. She's so young but so far ahead of the anybody at her age in Canada.
"And there's more and more young Canadian players playing college golf," Van Kesteren added.
"We're in good shape."
On Twitter: @SUNToddSaelhof