During the five years that she played for the Port Washington High School boys golf team, Kelly Shon had a ritual after her matches, most of which were victories. Rather than celebrate, she would head over to the putting green, the driving range or the chipping area and work on her game.
"Even some of the other coaches were shocked," said Kathy Doughty, who coached Shon all five seasons. "She couldn't get enough practice time in."
Doughty, for one, was definitely not shocked when she heard last month that Shon, now 22, had made it to the major leagues of women's golf by earning her LPGA Tour card. Which is not to say she wasn't emotional. "It sent shivers up and down my spine, I was so excited," Doughty said.
She can only imagine how Shon and her family felt. Shon did shed some tears after having surprised herself at how well she had played at the 90-hole qualifying tournament in Daytona Beach, Florida.
"I thought, 'Here's a new beginning.' It felt refreshing," Shon said on the phone from Florida, where she is practicing. "My mom was probably the most emotional of all of us when it was over."
That stands to reason in that it was her mom, Kae, who got Shon started in golf at the age of 12 because she needed someone to fill out a foursome. At first, the youngster found it boring. Then she discovered she was pretty good at it, then she fell in love with the sport.
So she tried out for the team in seventh grade, but the squad was strong and Doughty told her to come back the following year with the promise that there would be a roster spot for her. "She has never looked back, I don't think," the coach said.
Shon is the first golfer from Princeton (she graduated in May) to make the LPGA Tour and the first Long Islander to do so since Garden City's Jean Bartholomew earned her card in 1996. Bartholomew went on to have 10 top-10 finishes and $928,907 in career winnings.
It was no secret or anything new for Shon that got her there. "I guess, just hard work," she said. "I trained really hard going into it. I had had my doubts right before that because I wasn't playing that well. I wasn't where I wanted to be or where I expected to be, to be honest. It kind of showed in my first two rounds. I think I was 3 over in my first few holes. I just kind of fought back."
That was the attitude that had allowed her to finish second among the boys in the 2010 Nassau high school championship, finish strongly in the Ivy League championship as a sophomore even though she had pneumonia, and bounce back from losing to longtime friend Annie Park of Levittown in the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur.
She had tried for her tour card before her senior season at Princeton, but wasn't even sure if earning it would have been a good thing. "I was torn, whether I wanted to turn pro right away or not," she said. "But this year, I really, really, really wanted to make it."
It had seemed a long shot last summer and fall, though. On the Symetra Tour, the LPGA's development circuit, she rarely earned enough to cover the expenses she and her mom incurred. During a break in the schedule, she stopped in at the Bethpage pro shop.
"I asked, 'How's it going?' and she said, 'It's different than anything I ever expected,' " said head pro Joe Rehor, who got to know Shon through his assistant Jimmy Lee, a close friend of the family. "But she said she knew she could do it. Kids who are that smart know what they're doing. And they also know that if they can't do it, it's time to move on and do something else."
Yes, during lean weeks on the Symetra tour, she went online to see what kind of job she might get this year. Still, she didn't want to let go. "I would wake up every morning and I didn't know if I was ready to quit golf yet. It's weird to describe. It's something that has been a part of you for so long. Until I get to the point where I feel like I'm going to wake up and I don't want to do this anymore, and I know it for sure, I'm just going to keep going."
She is committed to playing the LPGA's third tournament of the season, in Australia, and might debut sooner in Florida or the Bahamas if there is room in the field. How does a person prepare for a rookie year? "I'm not sure," she said with a laugh. "I've never done this before."
So she is just practicing hard, like she always has.