Women's Golf: Star can’t be kept off course
She battled the illness throughout the heart of the season, and her weak immune system, her five classes and her intense practice schedule have taken a toll on her. But despite not being completely healthy, Shon has put together an impressive individual campaign this season that leaves her with a good chance of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
Whether she receives an individual bid depends on how she performs in the NCAA East Regional, which begins two weeks from today. Even though Princeton failed to qualify as a team this year, Shon received a bid to the Regional for the second year in a row on Monday, in large part due to her victories in the Low Country tournament and the Brown Invitational the next weekend.
“Just being awarded a regional bid is a huge honor,” women’s golf head coach Nicki Cutler said, noting that it’s very difficult to qualify as an individual like Shon did. “There aren’t many spots out there, so that in and of itself is a testament to the caliber of player that Kelly is.”
But despite her two victories, her illness caught up with her last weekend at the Ivy League tournament. During the first day of competition, Shon’s allergies were bothering her severely on the course. As soon as she finished the 18th hole, she signed her scorecard and went to lie down on a bench. That only made it worse, she said. A few minutes later, she suffered the first asthma attack of her life.
In the emergency room later that night, the doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia and encouraged her not to play the remainder of the tournament. Cutler was also hesitant, but Shon was determined.
“I told her, ‘I am this sick because I worked so hard trying to prepare for this tournament, so if I have to withdraw after the first day, that would just make me even more upset,’ ” Shon said.
Shon played through illness on Saturday and Sunday and ended up finishing seventh individually. She was named All-Ivy following the tournament, and her teammates were impressed by her resilience.
“We were all incredibly surprised because we all thought she wasn’t going to play, but she sucked it up and played for the team,” senior Wonji Choi said. “That’s one of her strengths. She’s able to push herself, and she’s incredibly tough with golf.”
Shon did not pick up a golf club until she was 12 years old, four years after she moved to the United States from South Korea. Because she lived on Long Island, she did not have the opportunity to practice her game on the course year-round, like many of her teammates from warmer climates in the South did. Nevertheless, she lived close to a driving range and would spend hours improving her ball-striking skills.
She credits all the time she spent at the driving range not only with making her long-range shots the best part of her game but also with her ability to alter her swing whenever she gets into bad habits. Last year, she was swinging too much from the inside out and thus had to use her wrists and lower back to compensate. But she said she feels great about where her swing is now. It’s “right on plane, making good tempo; the rhythm is solid,” she said.
“Changing my swing doesn’t come as much of a difficulty as it does for some people,” Shon said, who noted that sometimes she makes changes to her swing as often as twice a week. “I actually probably do it too often.”
While in high school, Shon continued bettering her game and playing in amateur tournaments. Her high school did not have a girls’ team, so she competed with the boys’ team, which she said helped her competitiveness and her driving skills, since she would begin each hole from farther back. Though she had never played on any girls’ team before coming to Princeton, she said she now has a very strong bond with her teammates.
Freshman Mary Funk, a good friend of Shon’s on the golf team, said Shon’s ability to rebound from a poor performance sets her apart from her competitors and motivates her teammates.
“Kelly is very focused, and she’s able to bounce back from a bad hole with birdies and pars,” Funk said. “If she has a bad hole, she doesn’t let it shake her.”
This skill has helped Shon improve over the course of the past two years. While she said her scores are nowhere near where they need to be right now, she hopes to get her game up to a professional level over the next two years, a goal Cutler said she has a good chance of achieving. Last summer, Shon qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open but missed making the cutoff to move on by just one shot.
A sociology concentrator, Shon plans to go into marketing or advertising if golf does not work out. But for now, Shon’s only focus is getting herself healthy in time for this weekend’s Regional Tournament.
In order to qualify for the national tournament, Shon will have to finish the regional as one of the top two individual competitors. Last year, she finished 52nd overall out of both team and individual competitors. But even if Shon is not completely healthy or if something is off in her game from her lack of practice, Cutler said Shon has a good shot at success in the tournament this weekend at Penn State’s Blue Course.
“When you start to see players thrive, you see them find ways to win even when they don’t have their A game,” Cutler said. “That’s what’s been most special about this season. You’re seeing Kelly find a way to win even when she doesn’t have her A game.”