Sharp tees it up for country, women

Hamilton Spectator

OAKVILLE — One of Alena Sharp’s major athletic assets is her strength, and she’s probably going to need it all next month.

That’s because the Hamilton native is carrying a lot of people on her back. She welcomes the challenge, courts it, actually.

“To represent Canada is one thing,” the 35-year-old professional golfer told an admiring audience Tuesday during the formal introduction of the Canadian Olympic golf team at Glen Abbey, where the men’s Canadian Open begins Thursday.

“But to represent Hamilton is another thing entirely. Not too many athletes from Hamilton get to go to the Olympics.”

Later she added, “Obviously I’m very fortunate to have great support from Hamilton. I always come back home, I’m proud to be a Hamiltonian.”

She feels it’s not just her country and hometown she’s standing up for, but also potential female golfers around the world.

“It’s a huge honour to represent Canada and to go down there and really represent women in the sport of golf. And hopefully we can spur on more girls to play, and be role models for not only Canadians but for all over the world.”

Sharp and Brooke Henderson will play for Canada in the women’s medal play event while Graham DeLaet and Brantford’s David Hearn comprise the men’s team.

Sharp, ranked 85th, and Henderson, the world’s No. 2 ranked female golfer, are already de facto teammates on the LPGA Tour, and their on-green celebrations after two Henderson wins, including last month’s US Open, have become kind of a thing.

“Last year I was a few groups in front of her and I just waited around and that’s how it started,” Sharp explains. “This year, I went and packed my bags and came back to the course. I didn’t know if she would win, but she was close so I went back just in case. It was amazing to be right there to see it happen.

“We’re pretty good friends. We play a lot of golf together. I think we feed off each other and she’s brought out the fearless kid in me even though I’m 35 now and she’s only 18. I think that’s been really helpful to me. I’ve had a great season this year. I think we’re both really prepared to go down there and contend for a medal.”

Much is made of Canada being the “defending” champion in men’s golf because the last time (1904) it was held at the Games George Seymour Lyon of Toronto’s Lambton Golf and Country Club won it. Little is known of the only women’s Olympic tournament, in 1900, but 22 from only four countries (Great Britain, the United States, Greece and France) competed, and the Americans swept the medals.

Sharp’s not concerned about the Zika virus but says she’ll be wearing bug spray “24/7 and I’ll probably wear long sleeves, but I’m going to be playing in shorts.

“I think the honour of playing for your country trumps any concerns there are in Rio.

“You grow up watching the Olympics. I played hockey (for the Hamilton Hawks, with whom she won a provincial championship) but I wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship or anything so when they announced that golf was in the Olympics I thought ‘Wow, I can actually be that person I looked up to when I was a kid.’”

Sharp is long off the tee, which will be advantageous in Rio, and Team Canada coaches have already been to the course and mapped out the greens, which are likely to be hard and tricky. She’s been playing well in the wind this year and next week’s British Open, which rarely has calm conditions, should be good preparation, as will a mini-camp in Houston where Team Canada will play on the same type of grass they’ll see in Rio.

At yesterday’s ceremony, the team received their Team Canada jackets and that struck a hard chord.

“It was officially announced last week but today being here in front of fans, and being from Hamilton not far away, having people here cheering, when you put the jacket on, it does feel more real.

“There are no real words to put to it. I can look back and say I was an Olympian.”

905-526-3268 | @miltonatthespec