It may be the legendary Steeltown grit that grew out of her Hamilton roots, or it may just be a young player not yet jaded by the potentially big paycheques on the LPGA Tour.
Whatever it is, you have to admire Alena Sharp’s realistic expectations as she prepares for her fourth season on tour. On Thursday, the 1999 Canadian junior champ tees off at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii, with a realistic goal of getting her first win sometime in 2009.
Sharp’s philosophy of paycheques reflecting workload is a refreshing one in a game in which the top stars are often absent from tournaments that have less money, prestige and profile than the majors or World Golf Championships.
In this economy, even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has been pleading with players to add one or two events to their schedules given the tough challenges ahead for that circuit.
Back on the LPGA Tour, Sharp, who played 27 tournaments last year, is following Finchem’s suggestion, even though he has no influence on her. Playing more in order to make more is a common theme for somebody outside the spotlight occupied by the top players on tour.
Work ethic is just one aspect of Sharp’s financial philosophy. Cutting costs wherever possible is the other side of it.
That two-sided attitude is one that is, hopefully, being mirrored by the Canadian golf industry in these difficult times. With all the news about job losses, bailout packages and a deepening recession, it’s a positive message that slugging through tough times is a better remedy than fear, false hope or denial.
Last year, Sharp earned $180,958, good for 69th on tour. In the real world, that’s some pretty nice coin for a 27-year-old, but hardly what the top stars on the tour are pulling in. It’s also a number that starts to dwindle quickly with travel expenses such as airfare, accommodation and food on the road.
“I make sure that I’m booking things in advance, so I’m not getting charged a lot for tickets. I feel like I’m getting pretty good at it,” said Sharp. “I usually fly (airline network) Star Alliance. I’m pretty loyal to that. I get upgrades so that’s always nice.”
After a week off, the tour moves from Hawaii to Thailand to Singapore to Mexico and on to Phoenix, over to California for the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year, then back to Mexico. That’s a lot of jumping around, but something Sharp accepts.
“Right now, the economy’s not doing so well. I’m just happy to be out playing. Who cares if we have to go from California to Alabama and back to Hawaii? That’s just the way it is,” said Sharp.
The LPGA is experiencing a dwindling schedule with the most recent hit coming a couple of weeks ago when Ginn announced that it was pulling its sponsorship of an event in the Orlando area due to the economy, leaving the tour with considerably less tournaments and prize money compared to last year.
Luckily, Sharp is in a position where she will get plenty of tournaments in this year, so she’s not about to complain about the travel or the workload ahead.
“Some of us would rather just play more tournaments or have the option to play more tournaments and play for a little less money, especially now and in the next couple of years, it’s going to be very difficult,” she said.
“To play for a million dollars (overall purse) instead of 1.4 (million dollars), I would rather have three tournaments doing that than just one tournament a month,” she added.
“People get greedy and just lose sight of the things that matter. The LPGA needs to step up and take a look at what’s going to happen with us the next couple of years. It’s kind of scary.”
It is scary, to be sure, but fear won’t help the situation. It will be hard work, sound financial management and realistic expectations that get you through. That holds true whether you’re a tour player, or anyone involved in the Canadian golf industry or any business for that matter.