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Ex-Michigan State golfer wins a real, live tournament — plus $2,800 and some TP

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Stop us if you've heard this one lately. Because, well, you haven't.

A professional athlete competed in an honest-to-goodness professional competition this past week, and took home an honest-to-goodness paycheck — plus a little bit extra.

"They gave some toilet paper," said Sarah Burnham, a Michigan State alumna and pro golfer. "He was like, 'Here's a little extra prize for the winner.'"

Sarah Burnham won a Cactus Tour tournament in Arizona on Friday.

As the sports world has almost completely shutdown amid the global coronavirus crisis, there are only little pockets of action remaining — and not much at all outside eSports or, apparently, pizza-box folding.

So when the LPGA suspended play earlier this year, Burnham retreated to Arizona, where she lives in the winter, and looked for something to do. Fortunately for her, the owner of the local Cactus Tour said his tournament would play on, as long as golf courses in Arizona remained open.

The Cactus Tour, owned and operated by Mike Brown for the last decade, doesn't have very big fields, and practically nonexistent crowds, so it kept on going. And because of that, Burnham collected a first-prize trophy (yes, a real trophy) — plus $2,800 for her efforts Friday.

At Sundance Golf Club in Buckeye, Arizona, Burnham closed with a par-72 on Friday to win by four strokes. She finished the three-day tournament at 4-over 220, and rallied from third place on the final day. Burnham beat out a field of 16, mostly local pros.

"I actually didn't have my best game, but the course was pretty challenging," she said. "The scores were pretty high. And I was able to play a steady round and pulled off the win."

It was a pretty nice belated birthday present; Burnham turned 24 earlier in the month. It was doubly special that her boyfriend, Jackson Renicker, was caddying. Renicker, a Brighton native, attends Michigan State, where he's on the wrestling team.

The previous week, Burnham, a Minnesota native who graduated from Michigan State in 2018, played a Cactus Tour tournament, as well, and finished fourth in a field of 27.

The Cactus Tour, despite playing on, has taken precautions. It sent the golfers out in groups of two, to abide by social-distancing suggestions. There were no rakes in the bunkers. Players had to leave the flagstick in, and cups had cut-up pieces of pool noodles in them, so players didn't have to reach far to retrieve their ball.

"We practiced all the social-distancing guidelines and stuff like that," she said. "It's not like a huge group."

Like many professional athletes, Burnham's year has been thrown through a serious loop — with all major sports leagues shut down, including all major professional golf tours.

She had briefly began her sophomore season on the LPGA Tour, at a tournament in Australia, where she made the cut. And that was that. The LPGA shut down. The next event on the schedule begins May 14, though there's no guarantee things will be and running by them.

Sarah Burnham, with her caddie/boyfriend, Jackson Renicker, a wrestler at Michigan State.

Burnham hopes everything's good to go for her favorite tournament, the Meijer LPGA Classic in Grand Rapids, set for June 11-14.

"My first cut on the Tour was at the Meijer, and I also played in that the year past, too," said Burnham, a two-time Big Ten player of the year who was second-team All-American her senior year. "It's such a great course and a fun tournament. I love the Meijer."

The LPGA Tour is scheduled to return to Michigan a month later, July 11-14, for the two-person team tournament that is the Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland.

Burnham played in 15 tournaments her rookie season, making seven cuts and $66,713. She recorded one top-10, a tie for ninth in Portland.

She had high hopes entering this season and felt like she was more prepared to succeed, now that she knows the Tour, and, more importantly, the courses.

Then the plug was pulled, indefinitely, a decision which also suspended the rookie season for fellow Michigan State alum Liz Nagel. (It also canceled the Augusta National Women's Amateur, which current MSU golfer Allyson Geer-Park, of Brighton, was scheduled to play in.)

"It's definitely a little upsetting," said Burnham, who to try to keep busy has started taking real estate courses. "I'm lucky enough in the Phoenix area where I can still continue to play golf, and I think we'll be starting up in May, if not later. I know it will come eventually, and I'm not too worried.

"Now's just a time to take it a little easier in life."

And enjoy the little things.

Like $2,800 — and, perhaps more valuable, that roll of toilet paper.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984