Brantford Expositor – Brian Smiley, June 6, 2014

1297569230022_ORIGINALWATERLOO - It’s hard to believe but Alena Sharp is close to marking 10 years on the LPGA Tour.

While it seems like yesterday when Sharp was putting the lights out as a junior at the Brantford Golf and Country Club, it was actually 15 years ago that she captured one of her biggest events, the national junior women’s championship.

Since then she’s graduated from New Mexico State University and has been on the LPGA Tour for nine years.

“It just flies by,” Sharp said from Waterloo this week where she’s competing in the Manulife Financial Classic at the Grey Silo Golf Course.

“I graduated 11 years ago. I thought about that a couple of weeks ago when someone asked me.”

Since the 33-year-old joined the tour in 2005, she’s seen many changes, most of all the scores and level of competition.

“I’ve seen the cut lines go from two to three over when I first started and now it’s even, one-under or two-under,” she said.

“There’s no let up. You cannot make mistakes. There’s no room for doubles out there. You have to make birdies to get them back or you get behind the eight-ball.

“You have to work hard, train hard and get a good night’s sleep. All these things add up.”

Unfortunately for Sharp, she wasn’t feeling well this week – her fourth straight week of playing – and she didn’t get off to the start she’d hoped for on Thursday in the first round, carding a two-over-par 73.

But Sharp bounced back on Friday, recording a two-under 69 to make the cut at even par for the tournament. She made five birdies against just three bogeys on the day.

Sharp is currently tied for 60th, 11 shots back of co-leaders Shanshan Feng of China and Hee Young Park of South Korea.

One of the areas where Sharp is trying to improve is her mental game.

“That’s one of my issues right now. I don’t look at all the good things that I’ve done,” she said.

“The last three or four weeks I’ve started to play really well. I’ve hit all these greens but all I think about is, ‘Oh, I’m not making putts.’

“I’ve been my worst enemy instead of being my best friend. I realized that now, halfway through the season.

“My goal this week is to have good posture and good self talk and let it go. It’s hard.”

Sharp said to try and bring a better mental game to the course, she’s trying to use her head a little less.

“When you’re first out here you don’t think as much, you just play because you’re younger,” she said. “As you get older and experience more, you think too much. You have to stop thinking and play the game.

“Everyone always says play like a kid because you don’t think when you’re younger, you just play.

“It’s harder to forget bad things. We always focus on those one or two bad shots instead of all the good ones that were hit. I’m trying to change that.”

And there’s lots of positives to look at.

Aside from a great tied for 14th finish at the beginning of May in the North Texas Shootout, Sharp won earlier this season on the Symetra Tour, which is the LPGA Tour’s developmental circuit.

“I’ve done a lot of great things this year, way better than last year already,” said Sharp, who cashed a cheque for $15,000 with her win at the Visit Mesa Gateway Classic in February.

“It’s just like baby steps. I felt like I was in the basement and now I’m climbing up. It’s just going to take a while.”

And no matter where her head is at right now, she truly believes she can get her mind where it needs to be to do great things on the LPGA Tour.

“I really feel that if I get my head in the right space that I can win out here,” she said. “I’ve played with Lydia Ko, I’ve played with Michelle Wie and I was right there with them all day. There’s nothing different. The only thing is they believe it a little bit more than I do.

“I just need to feel confident of all the good things I’m doing and forget the bad things.”

If there’s one physical area of her game she’s trying to improve, it’s her work with the short stick.

“Right now my putting has been bothering me a little bit,” said Sharp. “I just don’t have confidence in it.

“I just need to believe it because I am a good putter. I haven’t made putts and it’s hard when you hit 14 or 15 greens and you don’t make any, you get down on yourself.”

After the Manulife, it’s back to the regular tour events farther from home. At least for one week, she was able to play in front of family and friends.

“I try not to make it a big deal but obviously it’s different,” she said of playing in Waterloo while mom and dad – John and Pat – as well as an aunt and uncle from Calgary watched her play.

“Everyone is yelling at you in the crowd. It’s not like that in the States.

“I just need to relax.”

Two other BGCC members are at the tournament and playing on the weekend.

Paris native Jennifer Kirby is sitting at one-under-par following a round of 70 Friday to go with her even-par 71 Thursday.

Kirby notched four birdies Friday, but a bogey on 11 and a double-bogey on three kept her from vaulting up the leaderboard.

Nevertheless, Kirby is tied for the high Canadian in the tournament with Sue Kim at 46th.

And following an opening 75, Brantford’s Nicole Vandermade put together a stellar round of 68 to get to one-over-par for the event, just making the cut in a tie for 70th.

Vandermade scored five birdies against just two bogies on the day.