The Jian Lake Blue Bay Golf Course on Hainan Island in China often seemed like the last place that Hamilton’s Alena Sharp would record her career best finish on Sunday. After all, Sei Young Kim won the Blue Bay LPGA event by finishing at two under.
“It was a very tough week with strong winds and firm greens. It made hitting greens very difficult, but I have worked hard on my putting and short game lately and it has paid off,” said Sharp, who finished five shots back of the winning score in a tie for fifth.
“I believe this career best finish proves to me that hard work does pay off. My mental game got me through as I’m not striking the ball as well as I had been earlier this year,” she added in an e-mail.
Mental toughness and patience were indeed advantages as Sharp had to adjust her game in order to deal with the conditions and realize the week in China was not going to be typical at an event she had never played.
“Tthe wind made the course difficult. The greens were very firm compared to last year I have been told,” said Sharp
“The first round, I had a lot of long irons into greens, which is unusual for me unless it’s the U.S. (Women’s) Open,” she added.
“The greens were very undulated and therefore, the shots into the green needed to be in the correct quadrant. Some greens were like three greens in one, so patience was definitely needed because you were going to miss greens and have some crazy 60-80 footers,” she said.
After a two-over 74, Sharp came back with a 70 in the second round, but another 74 came out of the third round.
In the final round, she recorded a birdie on the second hole and appeared to be hanging in before taking a bogey on 13 and a double bogey three holes later, which left her two over on the day and four over for the tournament before a birdie on the par three 17th.
“I did have a bogey on 13, which frustrated me because I didn’t commit to the club and left the ball in a bad spot. On 16, I hit a solid iron in and the wind drifted it a bit and it took a horrible bounce into the edge of the hazard,” she said.
“Those things happen especially on this course. I shook it off and believed I could birdie both holes coming in. In the past, I might have been so frustrated that the next shot wouldn’t have been great, but that’s the old me,” added Sharp, who finished with a 73.
“I stood up there on 17 and went right at the pin with my wedge, hit it to three feet and had an eight-footer on 18, so I think I handled the double very well,” she said.
In her 10th season, a new Sharp is emerging, but the number of young stars emerging on the LPGA Tour is well-documented. It’s a reality that Sharp, 34, is aware of, but believes she will still prosper going forward.
“I definitely am a veteran out here asnd do feel old in comparison to all the 18 to 23-year -olds, but I have always slowly gotten better,” she said.
“I plan to be out here for many more years. Lorie Kane caught her stride in her 30s. Kris Tamulis, a good friend of mine, just won in Prattville (Ala.) this year and she is 34, so it can be done,” said Sharp.
Sharp will play this week’s Toto Japan Classic, but isn’t certain whether she’ll be in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico City. She will conclude the season at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., before returning home to the Phoenix area.
“I’m ready for a break. I have played a lot of golf this year, only missed five cuts. We had a busy schedule. I’m looking forward to some down time at home in the beautiful Arizona fall weather, hiking and biking and a little bit of hockey,” she said.
“I’m working on some swing changes this off-season and I will hit the gym hard to get stronger and more flexible. I’m sure the off-season will fly by as we start at the end of January,” she said.
For more on her T5 in China, click here.