April 7th, 2011
Daniel Girard Toronto Star

Alena Sharp has always considered her golf game a work in progress.

From her earliest days on the Hamilton-area courses of Chedoke and Southern Pines to New Mexico State University to this, her sixth season on the LPGA Tour, Sharp has been about steady improvement, refining her game and trying to put the pieces together to turn solid performances into great ones.

“If you look back at everything in my career, I’ve always started off slow and every year I’ve gotten better,” says the 30-year-old from Hamilton, who now lives in Arizona. “Junior golf, amateur golf, college and now professional, it’s all about building up.

“Something great might happen this year. I feel like every part of my game is ready for it.”

Sharp, who turned pro in 2003 and has been a regular on the LPGA Tour since 2006, earned $172,599 (all figures U.S.) last season to rank 56th, a 22-spot improvement from 2009. In 21 events, she missed just five cuts, the fewest in her career, and her 72.5 scoring average also was her best to date.

But Sharp, who had one top-10 finish last season, the third of her career, still found plenty to try to improve on as she pursues the first victory of her LPGA Tour career. She’s been working with Dave Stockton Jr. on her putting, after ranking 114th on Tour in 2010 in that key statistic.

And, even though Sharp ranked an impressive 22nd in greens in regulation in 2010, she did a lot of off-season work with former LPGA player Val Skinner, a six-time winner, on tightening up her backswing. While saying it’s “not a huge change” she’s making, she found she had a habit of letting her arms get away from her body and missing shots left during pressure-filled rounds. With the change, she’s hitting the ball more consistently and her misses are more controlled, going a little to the right.

“Down the stretch I want to be able to rely on it and not worry about that left shot creeping back in,” she says of the change. “It’s about doing it enough to get the confidence to know I’ll continue to do it.”

The LPGA Tour is tough enough already with the continuous influx of young talent, particularly from Asia as the game grows there. But throw in the fact that the economy has taken a bite out of the number of events and it’s becoming that much harder for Sharp to keep her game fine-tuned.

She plans to fill in the gaps in her 2011 schedule with stops on the Cactus Tour, an Arizona mini-tour that includes LPGA and Future Tour players, as well as more tournaments in Canada. While Sharp’s LPGA Tour resumé may not be filled with top-10s, and challenging for wins consistently is more a goal than a reality, she’s had success at every other stage of her development in the game.

It’s a game she came by honestly. Her mom, Pat, lived in a house that backed onto a golf course growing up and was a solid player. Her dad, John, lovingly described by his daughter as “a golf nerd,” not only loves the game and introduced it to her but also boasts a handicap in the four to six range.

Sharp started playing at age 7. By 10, she was attending golf camps in Hamilton and a year later was competing in nine-hole tournaments. Eventually, she began playing out of her dad’s club, Brantford Golf and Country Club, winning a pair of Ontario junior titles in 1997 and 1998, both the Ontario Ladies and Canadian junior crowns in 1999, and the Toronto Star Amateur in 2000 and 2003.

Sharp went to New Mexico State on a full golf scholarship. She won several tournaments during her collegiate career, capping it with an NCAA All-American First-Team selection in 2003, the year she graduated with a degree in marketing. She turned professional in the fall of that year.

Although still searching for a title on the LPGA Tour, Sharp has picked up nine pro wins. In 2004, her first full year as a professional, she won five times — the Canadian PGA Women’s championship and four events on the West Coast Ladies Golf Tour, a minor league circuit in the United States.

In 2005, Sharp successfully defended her Canadian PGA title. She’s also won three times on the Cactus Tour, most recently in February.

With those wins on her resumé, Sharp is confident she can hoist a trophy at the LPGA level, too.

“I gave myself five years (to make the LPGA Tour once turning pro) and I did it in three,” she says. “And, from there, I haven’t lost my card. I haven’t looked back.”