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Alena Sharp (Greg Wahl-Stephens)
Alena Sharp (Greg Wahl-Stephens)

Hockey helps Alena Sharp maintain golf focus Add to ...

As a professional golfer on the LPGA Tour, Alena Sharp doesn’t mind working Sundays. It means she made the cut, will earn a paycheque and could possibly be in the hunt for her first title on the top women’s circuit.

Every Sunday is special during the off-season as well. It’s hockey day for the Canadian.

Sharp heads to a rink in Chandler, Ariz., where she makes her home now, to play in a recreational league for women. The games not only reconnect the 31-year-old to her Hamilton roots but prepare her body and mind for the coming golf season.

“Working out everyday is fine,” she says, “but going out and playing something is more fun.”

Other women on the LPGA Tour have the same attitude. While they aren’t necessarily lacing up skates, many of them have other offbeat ways to stay active and healthy during the off-season.

Ryann O’Toole surfs, Dewi Claire Schreefel climbs rocks and Wendy Ward rustles cattle. Suzann Pettersen, a self-described fitness freak, does just about everything but skiing is her passion.

Unlike men on the PGA Tour who have brief off-seasons and usually spend theirs resting, women in the pro game often have a few months off – plenty of time to pursue other interests.

“It’s just a good balance for me to get away from golf so I am refreshed when I come back to it,” says Sharp, who will make her season debut next week at the tour’s first North American stop of the season, the RR Donnelley Founders Cup in Phoenix.

Sharp got into hockey when she was about 8, skating alongside boys on house-league teams, and also played high school hockey. But with her golfing abilities taking off in her teenage years – among other achievements, she was the Ontario Ladies and Canadian Junior champion in 1999 – hockey took a back seat. She put away the blades when she headed to the United States on a golf scholarship at the New Mexico State University.

But a few years ago she heard about the Chandler Polar Ice Women’s League in the Phoenix suburb. After rescuing her equipment from her basement in Hamilton, she was back on the ice.

“My first time back, I remember my back was killing me,” Sharp recalls. “You know, you’re always bent over and I wasn’t used to it. I was like, holy smokes, I’m out of shape.”

But she eventually found her skating legs again and now leads her team, a perennial league championship finalist, as its top centre and one of its main goal scorers.

While hockey strengthens her legs, core and back – three areas underrated in importance in the golf swing – it also has helped Sharp between the ears.

“It brings out the drive to win in my personality,” says Canada’s top female golfer, who’s played well enough to keep her LPGA card over the past several years but has admitted to lacking confidence and a killer instinct on occasion. “I need to have that in my golf.”

Playing centre, as opposed to wing, where she skated as a youth, also gives her more responsibility, which she welcomes. “I feel like I take on more of a leader role. In golf, it’s just yourself.”

And if nothing else, her time at the rink is an hour away from the range, an hour less of obsessing about the swing. She and her team recently played in a tournament in Las Vegas and even though she confesses there was too much hockey (five games in three days) and maybe too much drinking (it was Vegas after all), she enjoyed the unique bonding experience of being part of a team.

“Getting out on the ice and skating is fun,” she says. “I missed it [during the years she didn’t play] It seems more fun now, I guess. It’s the social aspect of it, too, that I like – meeting people in Phoenix that aren’t golfers. It’s nice to have friends that don’t even care if I play golf. They’ll come out and watch but they don’t ask you all the time, ‘How you’d play today?’”

Ryann O’Toole: Surf’s up

The 25-year-old American, a long-hitting sophomore on the LPGA Tour, once appeared on Golf Channel’s Big Break reality show. But her biggest breaks are in the ocean.

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