As the LPGA’s critical news notifications piled up on Sarah Burnham’s phone, so did her anxiety.
Four months removed from advancing out of the tour’s Q-Series, the former standout girls’ golfer at Wayzata High School earned full status for 2020. She took a chance and rented property in Arizona from January through April, a sort of home base for LPGA tournaments in the southwest.
Then, one after another, the LPGA shelved scheduled events, following the PGA and other professional sports leagues around the world in response to the coronavirus.
The LPGA hasn’t fielded an event since the Women’s Australian Open in mid-February, and Burnham hasn’t played on the tour since the week before that event. She missed the cut, packed her bags and hoped for better results stateside.
Like the tour schedule, her plans are on indefinite hold.
“I was upset because I was really looking forward to playing again,” she said. “Competition is way better than casual golf.”
With nowhere to turn but the local driving range and ho-hum rounds at public courses, Burnham took note of the “Now Hiring” sign stuck to the door of a PGA Superstore a few weeks back — just before her 24th birthday. She seriously considered applying for a part-time job.
Instead, Burnham leaned on an organization whose website proudly displays in highlighted magenta type: “We’re Playing!!”
Burnham registered for the Cactus Tour. It’s one of several golf mini tours in the southern states providing no-frills competition to mostly up-and-coming players (Chanhassen graduate Brenna Lervick is a regular). These tours are also the few remaining sports bodies still up and running.
Burnham entered her first Cactus Tour event last week in Moon Valley, Ariz. She shot 5-under 67 in Friday’s final round of the 54-hole, no-cut event and finished tied for fourth with North Dakota native Amy Olson at 9 under.
Two-time LPGA major winner Ana Nordqvist won the tournament in a playoff at 15 under.
As word of Nordqvist’s triumph swirled around the golf community, Cactus Tour owner Mike Brown’s cellphone required constant recharging.
“I’ve never been this busy,” said Brown, who bought the Cactus Tour in 2010, five years after its inception. “As long as the courses are open and the federal government doesn’t shut us down, I’m going to hold tournaments. I’ve actually added tournaments to the schedule.”
One of those adds was last weekend. It brought on a small but vocal opposition from some who believe golf mini tours should suspend competition like the larger tours have.
The LPGA’s Founders Cup tournament scheduled for March 19-22 in Phoenix was scrapped. Golfweek reported several LPGA players already in the Phoenix area planned to enter the Moon Valley Cactus Tour event but backed out after pressure from sponsors who didn’t want their clients competing during a worldwide pandemic.
“Why?” Brown retorted when asked if he thought his tour should go on hiatus. “Look, the courses are open. These girls are already practicing, playing whatever you want to call it. Every player is in their own cart or walking by themselves. We’re taking [safety] measures. We’re doing the social distancing. The only time we had even close to 10 [players] together was for the post-round photo.”
In that instance, Brown had the top eight players pose in a line with their arms stretched out from their sides.
“They’re athletes,” Brown said. “They need competition.”
The goal, Brown said, is not for the Cactus Tour to “get huge” during the LPGA shutdown. Rather, provide an outlet for out-of-work players if they choose.
Burnham is entered in this week’s Cactus Tour event in Buckeye, Ariz., and plans a few more “here and there.” After that, she said, the next move is up to fate.
“It depends on what happens, not just with golf but everywhere,” she said. “It’s such a weird time in the world.”