Kelly Shon has become used to carrying the torch on the golf course this spring.
In late April, the Princeton University junior star won the Ivy League women’s individual crown after shooting a 2-over 218 through 54 holes at Trump National in Bedminster and then beating Harvard’s Christine Lin on the first playoff hole.
“I had gotten emotional from the team finish,” said Shon, noting that she become upset upon learning that the Tigers had lost the team title by one shot to Harvard.
“I decided I had to gather myself and play for the team. I wanted to come through for the team. It meant a lot to have teammates and friends out there and players from the other teams.”
Two weeks later, Shon placed second at the NCAA East Regional, firing a 7-under 219 at the Auburn University Club to become the first Ivy League player to clinch a berth in the NCAA women’s golf championship since Princeton’s Mary Moan did so in 1997.
Last week at the NCAA Championships at University of Georgia Golf Course, Shon represented Princeton and the league with class, tying for 37th, the best finish ever for an Ivy League player in event history.
But showing her competitive nature, Shon was disappointed with her 10-over performance.
“The whole tournament was frustrating,” said Shon, a native of Port Washington, N.Y. whose score of 76-72-76-74 — 298 put her in the top third of the 126-player field
“Even on the second day, I should have been under par, I made doubles on the two par 5s, that is not what I was looking for. I actually liked the course. The greens were undulating and tricky but there were putts to be made. Even up to the end, I couldn’t get the speed of the greens.”
In the end, though, Shon was thrilled to have had the chance to compete in the national tournament.
“I am so grateful and so humbled to have had the experience,” said Shon, who became the second Tiger to win Ivy Player of the Year honors, an award that came about in 2009 when Susannah Aboff ’09 won the award as the last Tiger to win the Ivy individual title.
“Not all that many Ivy League players have made it. I wanted to represent my school and the league; I put more pressure on myself. I wanted to show on national stage that the Ivy League has some great players.
Shon displayed greatness in qualifying for the NCAAs, catching fire on the back nine of the final round of the regional with birdies the 10th, 13th, 14th, and 16th holes as she booked her ticket to Georgia.
“All I could think of was playing for my teammates and coming through,” said Shon, who was playing in her third straight NCAA regional.
“The last round was weird. I wanted to play well and not let myself get in the way. On the front nine my head did get in the way. I made a stupid mistake on No. 9 when I came up short on an approach shot. I thought I have a lot of people rooting for me and this was not the time to get mad at myself. It really means something when you are able to make birdies and good shots in that situation.”
While playing golf at Princeton means dealing with a heavy academic commitment and less time on the course, Shon believes she has become a tougher competitor
through the experience.
“I think it may come as a shock to other golfers but my time at Princeton has helped me become a better golfer,” said Shon.
“I have learned more about the game and how to handle things that people at other schools don’t have to deal with. There are different pressures and we have limited time to practice. It has helped me to be on my own. I saw at the nationals that the other teams had a big entourage with assistant coaches, trainers, and others.”
Shon learned a lot about herself last October when she fired a three-over 147 to win the two-round Lehigh Invitational at the Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
“I think the victory at Lehigh in the fall showed a lot; that was an example of my process of maturing,” said Shon, whose heroics helped Princeton win the team title at the event.
“Coming down the stretch, I knew I needed to birdie that last hole. I had three really good shots to get a 3 on a four. I am not sure I could have done that earlier in my career. It showed mental tenacity.”
As Shon looks forward to her final season at Princeton, she is contemplating a pro golf career.
“I am not exactly positive; it would be cool to be play professionally,” said Shon, who will be looking to play in the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links tournaments this summer as she has in the last two years. “I would need to be playing well and be comfortable putting in all that time on my game.
While Shon has thrived as she has flied solo this spring, she knows she can’t do it alone.
“I am so grateful for all the support from teammates, alums, and Tiger families,” said Shon.
“It was a meaningful experience to bring Princeton to the national stage and show what Princeton women’s golf can do.”