Kelly Shon ’14 has competed against some of golf’s best players in the U.S. Women’s Open.
Kelly Shon ’14 has competed against some of golf’s best players in the U.S. Women’s Open.

Becoming an elite golfer takes years of practice. And while not everyone is making putts on TV at the age of 2, as Tiger Woods did, Kelly Shon ’14 had an exceptionally late start, picking up the game when she was 12, an age when some players are competing in their first professional tournaments. 

“I only started because my mom liked to play golf a lot, and since I was young, I just followed her around,” Shon said. “She thought it was a waste of time [for me] to watch, so she gave me a club and told me to swing it.”

Less than a decade later, Shon is the top player on the Princeton women’s golf team and has competed against some of the sport’s best players. Last summer she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open, arguably the world’s most prestigious women’s golf tournament, and finished tied for 73rd, missing the cut to continue playing in the final two rounds by a single stroke. Many of her peers were too shy or intimidated to sign up for practice rounds with well-known players, Shon said, but she was eager to, and ended up playing alongside Michelle Wie and Yani Tseng.

When she was 8 years old, Shon moved to the United States from South Korea, where six of the world’s top 15 female golfers were born, more than in any other nation. But Shon’s experience with the game has been very different than that of most Korean stars.

“Golf over there is actually a lot different than here,” she said. “Over there, you literally quit school and focus on golf 24/7, whereas here, we try to be as well-rounded as we can be.”

Nowhere is that more evident than in her decision to attend Princeton, which — with tough academic demands and a mid-Atlantic climate — is not the most accommodating place for someone who has aspirations of becoming a professional golfer. Shon used to practice from 3 to 10 p.m. while attending Schreiber High School on Long Island, but she can’t always spend that much time on golf these days. During her finals in January, she said, she didn’t touch her clubs for a while, but she took swings throughout February to get in shape for a new season.

Three freshmen are competing in the starting five of the Princeton women’s team. The inexperienced group finished in the bottom half of the field in their first two tournaments and lost a head-to-head competition to Jacksonville University March 22, but Shon tied for first place at the Low Country Intercollegiate in South Carolina March 25 and 26.

“Kelly’s going to be a great leader for us,” head coach Nicki Cutler said. “She has a lot of experience playing at a very high level, so [the rest of the team] can really learn from her.”