PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Kelly Shon is a different type of cat out here on the LPGA’s tour.
She’s a Princeton Tiger.
Though this is her first start as an LPGA rookie here at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, she’s already the greatest player in the history of the Princeton men’s or women’s golf programs. When she advanced through LPGA Q-School last December, she became the first golfer from Princeton to earn a PGA Tour or LPGA card.
She’s just the third Ivy Leaguer to play the LPGA as a member, joining Yale’s Heather Daly-Donofrio, a two-time winner who is now the LPGA’s senior vice president of tour operations, and Jeehae Lee.
Shon, 22, made her fellow Tigers even prouder Friday, when she bolted on to the leaderboard at the Ocean Club Golf Course. With a 2-under-par 71 following up her opening-round 69, Shon sits at 6 under overall, just one shot behind Sun Young Yoo, the leader in the clubhouse.
“You know, I don’t know how to feel about that,” Shon said. “Does it shock me a little bit that I’m on the leaderboard? Absolutely.”
It delights Princeton athletics. Shon, who graduated with a sociology degree, made fellow Tigers proud tying for ninth at LPGA Q-School in December to earn tour membership.
Just how big a deal is it?
“I’m not sure I can really quantify it,” said Will Green, the director of golf at Princeton. “It’s huge. It’s enormous.”
When Shon put herself in position to earn a tour card that last day at Q-School, Green was more than paying attention. He was live tweeting her results hole-by-hole.
“I was a wreck,” Green said. “You can’t imagine how proud I was.”
Green said Shon’s success is being celebrated within the walls of Princeton.
Green is proud of what Shon represents. He was especially proud to see her carrying her small Princeton golf bag Friday, with her Tiger orange head covers.
“When I saw that on TV today, it was emotional for me,” Green said.
“For someone of her talent coming out of high school, she made the choice to go to an Ivy League school to compete and get her education,” Green said. “That’s very difficult for talented young players, to make choices like that, with the pressure there is to go to sports centric schools. To have the maturity to do that speaks to her character.”
Shon was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to New York when she was 8 after her father took a job as a surgeon there. She grew up in Port Washington. She has interests that reach beyond golf. Even with this impressive start, she isn’t sure how long she will play professionally.
“My senior year, it hit me that I really wanted to work for others in a non-profit,” Shon said. “I still have `windows and tabs’ open looking for jobs. Golf is all about me, and there’s a piece of me that wants more. There’s a part of me that wants to work in an office helping others, with colleagues, with 9 to 5 hours.
“I actually want to go to work for the Peace Corps. It’s something I will do at some point in my life.”
For now, though, there are birdies to make and lots of fellow Tigers to please back at Princeton.
“I think she will go down as the best player we’ve ever had,” Green said.