Top LPGA players turn up in Alberta

PRIDDIS — There isn’t anything missing from this week’s CN Canadian Women’s Open.

American Michelle Wie signs autographs  at the Priddis Golf & Country Club in Calgary

American Michelle Wie signs autographs at the Priddis Golf & Country Club in Calgary

PRIDDIS — There isn’t anything missing from this week’s CN Canadian Women’s Open.

The No. 1 player in the world? Check. All 12 members of the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup team? Check. The top 50 players on the LPGA’s money list? Check.

While the tournament has been on the rise since CN took over sponsorship in 2006, it appears set to hit a new high this week in suburban Calgary. There was considerable buzz as players strolled around picturesque Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club on Tuesday.

“This event is a huge event to every player out here,” said Hamilton’s Alena Sharp, the top Canadian in the field. “It’s our last biggest purse event of the year. It feels like a major the way we’re treated every year out here.”

Added American Morgan Pressel: “I think the best endorsement that we as players can give is to come here and play. And everybody’s here.”

It’s a big turnaround for the tournament, which only a few years ago was facing a sponsorship crisis and struggled to attract top players.

They were drawn to this year’s event for several different reasons.

The tournament purse of US$2.75 million is the third-largest of the year — behind only the U.S. Women’s Open and Evian Masters at $3.25 million — and the course has received strong reviews after the first couple practice days.

Some players even cited smaller details like the quality of food and a nice welcome gift as reasons they like it here.

“They gave us a nice cowboy hat,” said Michelle Wie. “I was pretty stoked.”

The American teenager was so fond of the gift that she could be seen wearing it while walking around in the afternoon.

Wie is coming off a fourth-place finish at last week’s event in Portland and will be among the players to keep an eye on here. Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen and defending champion Katherine Hull are also in the field.

Having so many top players in attendance is an added benefit for some of the young Canadians who will tee it up. National amateur champion Jennifer Kirby is playing the first LPGA event of her career and has spent the first couple days trying to take everything in.

“I’ve seen like all the players this week already, it’s kind of nice,” said Kirby, an 18-year-old from Paris, Ont. “It’s just weird seeing them in person rather than on TV.”

She is one of 12 Canadians in the field, which includes Red Deer’s Adrienne White, Sharp, Charlottetown’s Lorie Kane and A.J. Eathorne of Penticton, B.C.

Sharp enters the week sitting 75th on the tour’s money list and is still looking for the first victory of her LPGA career. She remains optimistic that it could come at her home event.

“Everything is coming together, and I’m glad that it’s coming together for this week,” said Sharp. “It’s a huge week for me to be out here. (The) Canadian Open is always the most important tournament in my heart.”

The tournament was last held at Priddis Greens in 1999, when Webb pulled out a two-shot win over Laura Davies. Dawn Coe-Jones of Lake Cowichan, B.C., was fourth that year.

The course plays to a par-71 over 6,427 yards of rolling hills and dense trees. It didn’t take long to catch the eye of those visiting for the very first time.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Wie. “It’s some really scenic walks, scenic views. It’s a little tough to walk, I might add.”

Pressel joked that she might need hiking boots to negotiate some of the hilly fairways.

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