In the months before her graduation from Princeton this past June, Kelly Shon seriously considered going to work on Madison Avenue or Wall Street, like many of her peers. In the end, she just decided on a different entry-level job: rookie professional golfer.
The Port Washington resident is following her dream, on highways and back roads. She is playing on the developmental Symetra Tour, where hopes are big and checks are small.
"I've been making cuts, but unfortunately, there's not a lot of money on this tour. I'm not really breaking even," she said, after having tied for 45th Sunday at the New England Charity Classic in Goffstown, New Hampshire, and earned $463.
The Symetra is to the LPGA what the Web.com Tour is to the PGA Tour: a feeder system and proving ground. Part of what golfers have to prove is handling the discipline of facing good competition weekly and enduring life on the road. Shon travels by car with her mom, who sometimes caddies for her (in one event, Shon carried her own bag).
After every tournament, Shon collects her check -- which generally doesn't cover expenses -- and the two of them get in a car and drive to the next event so she can be on the range to start practicing first thing Monday morning. This week, it is the Eagle Classic in Richmond, Virginia.
"When I got out of college, I thought 'OK, I'll have some other interest or hobby that I can devote myself to.' I can't do that, at least not now," she said. "It's a lot more of golf and a lot less of anything else."
She almost never gets a chance to watch golf on TV. It is part of the price she pays for taking a shot at something she has desired since she was 12. Shon has traveled on the junior circuit, was a star on Port Washington High School's boys team, had a good career at Princeton, played in the U.S. Women's Open and won a big event on the Florida amateur circuit.
All of that was enough to convince her that she wanted a try at making the LPGA, and to remind her how hard it would be to get there.
Mindful that a Princeton degree generally doesn't hurt a job search, Shon considered jumping right into a career in marketing or advertising. "But after a lot of guidance from people around me, I thought, if not now, then probably not ever," she said.
So instead of taking the first step up the company ladder, she has trekked from Charlotte, North Carolina; to Battle Creek, Michigan; Decatur, Illinois; South Bend, Indiana and Albany, New York. Before packing her suitcases, she did contemplate holding off on turning pro until after the U.S. Women's Amateur, which was held last week practically in her backyard, at Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove.
"The USGA is obviously a big deal and the U.S. Women's Amateur is the biggest tournament," she said. Aside from the fact it would be a home game, Shon had a chance to win it, having reached the round of 16 last year and losing an all-Long Island match to Levittown's Annie Park. "It would have been good on my resume, but golf isn't about resumes. It's what you do."
The doing will involve the LPGA's qualifying process, with the goal of cracking the top 10 at the final stage in December and earning her tour card.
For now, the Symetra is as much about learning as doing. "I've had my ups and downs, and it's hard not to question myself," she said. "But you just try to fight through it, you keep thinking about having that one good round."
If she has to spend more money than she takes in, that's part of the game. Someone pointed out that it is like an investment.
She said, "It's more like a gamble."