Alena Sharp will be part of the LPGA Tour’s restart on Friday when she tees off in the Drive On Championship in Toledo, Ohio. It can’t come soon enough.
“I’m ready,” she said. “I’ve been practising long enough.”
As with most of the top women’s golfers, the 39-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., has been trying to stay ready since the pandemic stopped play on the tour in February after just four events.
She practised at her home in Arizona and played a handful of mini-tour events. She also played in some money games at her home course, which she said forced her to grind out every swing.
“I hate losing,” she joked.
Getting back to the real thing, however, is a welcome endeavour.
Of course, the return to play comes under vastly different circumstances. As with other golf tours around the world, the LPGA will adhere to strict COVID-19 testing. Sharp and her partner and caddie, Sarah Bowman, underwent tests prior to leaving their home and then had another one upon arrival at the tournament site.
“Even though I knew we were okay,” said Sharp, “I was still a bit nervous waiting for the results to come back.”
That’s understandable. A positive test by either player or caddie means they will both withdraw from the tournament and quarantine for 10 days.
Gaby Lopez of Mexico became the first player to test positive this week and will self-isolate and not return to the tour until after a negative test.
Each day at the event, players will answer a questionnaire distributed to them on an app, and have temperature checks. When not on the course, everyone on site is being advised to wear a mask. The tournaments will also be played without fans and any non-essential volunteers, which will bring with it a different atmosphere.
“We don’t get the huge numbers like they do on the PGA Tour,” said Sharp, “but it will still be strange not to see anyone out there and not to have any grandstands.”
The LPGA Tour has worked with the PGA Tour in devising standards for tournaments, but it does have some differences. For example, each LPGA golfer is allowed two guests at the tournament site and players are not required to use caddies. On the women’s circuit, some players don’t have regular caddies and rely on locals to carry for them. This option allows them to feel safe during an uneasy period and there is likely to be pushcarts in use this week.
Another difference will be in the field, with many of the top golfers skipping the first few tournaments. The world’s No. 1 ranked player Jin Young Ko, who won last year’s CP Canadian Women’s Open, will not play this week or any of the first four tournaments, preferring to remain in South Korea. It’s the same plan for Sung Hyun Park, Sei Young Kim and Hyo-Joo Kim, all ranked in the top 10 in the world.
Brooke Henderson will skip the first three LPGA tournaments and return to play at the AIG Women’s Open Championship.
Sharp, however, is full speed ahead and is entered for the first five tournaments. She feels her game is in good shape after months of practice.
“It feels pretty good,” she stated. “I’m hitting my irons well. I’m driving it well and I’ve been fine-tuning my short game. There will definitely be some LPGA rust, but I think that will be the same for everyone.”
Along with a dedication to her fitness over the break, Sharp is hoping the restart will bring good things and the rust will fall away quickly.