Burnham Looking to Continue Early Momentum When LPGA Season Ramps Up
May 14, 2020
By Nick Hunter
Minnesotan Sarah Burnham has celebrated success at every level she’s played. A promising junior golf career evolved into one of the most dominant amateur players the state has seen in decades. Burnham played her way into the record books while at Michigan State University with three tournament victories and twice named Big Ten Player of the Year.
Last year Burnham accomplished her life-long goal of becoming a member of the LPGA when she finished tied for 27th at the inaugural LPGA Qualifying Series to earn full status for the 2019 season.
But it hasn't always been easy.
Burnham struggled in the classroom and on the golf course during part her freshman year in East Lansing, Mich., and for a brief period, even thought about stepping away. Leaning on her coaches and resources made available to college athletes, Burnham quickly turned her season around, finishing her final four events inside the top-30.
Advancing to the biggest stage against the world’s best players, Burnham struggled once again to start the 2019 LPGA season, missing her first five cuts and fired just three rounds below par.
“They say your rookie year is one of the toughest—everything is new, the courses are new again,” said Burnham. “I just wanted to experience as much as I could, get through the year and learn for the upcoming season.
“I always feel like I need a warm-up year when I get to the next level. Being on my own [last year] was so different from college because you had your teammates and our coach took care of all the travel.”
Burnham bounced back by making five consecutive cuts to finish the year 122nd on the 2019 LPGA Tour Money List, making seven cuts in 15 official events and amassing more than $65,000 in winnings. Her career-low finish came at the Cambia Portland Classic in August where she claimed her first top-10 finish.
Despite missing the cut during her first start of 2020 at the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia in February, Burnham opted to play a handful of events on the Cactus Tour, the only tour currently hosting events due to the worldwide shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former Wayzata High School standout played in five events, notching four top-5 finishes with a pair of victories and now hopes to carry that momentum back to the world’s top tour when the season resumes in mid-July.
“I was in Arizona from January until the end of April and the [Cactus Tour] is in the Phoenix area, so I didn’t have to travel far,” Burnham said. “It was nice because we could social distance; we played in twosomes and didn’t touch the pin. The field wasn’t very big, so it felt like we were going out to play a regular round of golf.
“It was great to have that kind of competition and to see where my game was. I was training during the offseason, so I was anxious to see how it paid off. We were ready to play that week at the [Volvik Founders Cup], but it just didn’t work out."
In her first event against the likes of fellow LPGA stars Anna Nordqvist, Lisa Pettersson, North Dakota’s Amy Olson as well as fellow Minnesotan Brenna Lervick, Burnham fired a 54-hole tally of 9-under 207 to finish tied for fourth with Olson in mid-March.
A week later at Sundance Golf Club in Buckeye, Ariz., Burnham overcame a two-stroke deficit during the final round to earn a two-stroke victory and collected a payday of $2,800 in the process.
“That week was pretty challenging. I started out in eighth place—that course could kind of sneak up on people and you just had to be really steady and I was able to pull off the win,” she said.
Battling Hawaiian Britney Yada two weeks later at Apache Creek Golf Club, Burnham shined down the stretch on the, hitting a clutch approach on the 54th hole to earn her second victory in just her third event on the Cactus Tour.
“That week was really intense. I went into the last round ahead by two and I was going back-and-forth with Brittany, who’s a really good Symetra Tour player,” Burnham recalled. “She was making a bunch of birdies and I knew I had to keep making birdies to keep my lead.
“On 17 I [double-bogeyed] and she bogeyed, so we were all square going into the final hole. I hit a shot from 190 yards to two feet and tapped in for eagle to win by a stroke. It was really fun and it was good to feel the pressure.”
Looking back on her rookie season, Burnham felt her nerves got the better of her game early in the season before a familiar tournament not far from the campus of Michigan State seemed to give her the boost she needed.
Burnham posted a 9-under 279 to finish tied for 33rd at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give in Belmont, Mich., which earned her an exemption into her first major as a professional—the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club, where she would play in front of her home crowd and make the weekend cut for the second consecutive week.
“The first part of the year I felt like I was pretty nervous getting out there with the best professionals in the world,” Burnham said. “Every tournament I played at the beginning, I felt so tense—I wasn’t used to having so many fans watching. That was a new experience.
“I was able to relax a little bit and towards the end of the season I felt like I was able to compete with them. I got back to playing the game that I was used to in college. I missed my first five cuts, but made my last five, so that was a good feeling to finish off the year. I was able to figure some things out and realized I do belong out there.”
Shifting to 2020, Burnham begins the year No. 149 on the LPGA Tour’s Priority List and will likely earn more starts than the 15 events she played in 2019.
After missing the cut in Australia in February, Burnham, who turned 24 in March, was prepared to travel back to the United States when there were rumblings of the coronavirus beginning to gain traction in Asia.
“We were in Australia when they started to shut down the Asian swing of the [LPGA Tour],” Burnham said. “We didn’t have any travel issues—the flight there was full but there were a lot less people on the flight home. I didn’t really think anything of it yet at that point because that was in February and the coronavirus hadn’t spread across the world yet.
“We were still planning on playing at the [Volvik Founders Cup] in Phoenix. Then about a week before that tournament they shut down three events and a couple weeks later shut down more.”
Burnham said she’s looking forward to another home game of sorts when the LPGA Tour gets up and running in mid-July at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club in Midland, Mich.
“I think if I’m on during a particular week, that I can compete with the best in the world,” Burnham said. “My ball striking is up there with any of the girls. I think we all hit the ball really well, but I think it comes down to the short game and putting.
“I know what to expect a little bit more in my second year and I don’t think my nerves will be an issue. I’ve played most of the courses now and can go back and remember when I made mistakes and how I can improve. That will help a lot.”