Jaclyn Sweeney has been in concentrated pursuit of reaching new heights in her golf career since the age of 15. Ever since the Andover, Mass. native moved to Sarasota, Fla. to enroll at the Bradenton-based IMG Golf Academy, the game she has grown to love has taken her to every corner of the world. And so it seems, wherever she ends up, the third-year pro makes the most out of the opportunities at hand. Sweeney has succeeded at every level she has played including junior, amateur, collegiate and now in the professional ranks.
She graduated high school early to enroll at Oklahoma State in the spring semester and made an impact for the Cowgirls as soon as she arrived on campus in Stillwater. She was tabbed the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year and a First-Team All-Big 12 Selection after just one season of collegiate golf. She earned her first-career victory at the Big 12 Championship at Karsten Creek and was named a First-Team All-American by Golfweek. But the East Coast girl found herself in a small Midwest town that she realized was not a fit for her.
“It just wasn’t the place for me,” said Sweeney. “It is for some people. It was just one of those things where they knew I didn’t want to be there and it wasn’t going to help to have me there.”
Sweeney said the amiable release from the OSU staff made her transition as comfortable as possible.
“I ended up looking at Georgia and Arizona State and Georgia started really early in January,” said Sweeney. “I couldn’t’ get everything transferred. It made my decision easier because I loved both schools.”
Sweeney made the move to Tempe, Ariz. where she again, succeeded immediately in a new location. She felt more at home at Arizona State and flourished in the close-knit setting.
“My team there was like a family,” said Sweeney. “I got to meet a lot of people. It was a great environment.”
The team-first mentality paid off for the Sun Devils in 2009 when they won the school’s seventh NCAA Women’s Golf National Championship. Sweeney finished 11th at nationals with a career-low 69 at Caves Valley Golf Club and was named Pac-10 Honorable Mention. She followed up her 2009 season with four top-10 finishes and six in the top-20. She received NGCA Honorable Mention All-American honors and was selected as a Third-Team All-American by Golfweek. With her game going in the right direction and having accomplished so much in short amount of time, Sweeney reevaluated her original plan of graduating.
“I was supposed to go back as a senior,” said Sweeney. “I had planned on graduating in three and a half years. But I sat there and said ‘I won NCAA’s as a team, I earned All-American…a degree is really important to me but I can get that at any time. I started talking to my coach and said this is really what I want to do as a career.
“I won at a junior level, I won at a collegiate level then won at the U.S. Amateur,” said Sweeney. “And my coach said you have a lot of work to do but if you feel like it’s the right decision, we fully support you and we’ll start down this path.”
Sweeney had to do more convincing with another party that had weighed in on her decision.
“My parents were like ‘no, no, no. You’re going to go back and get your degree’ but then they started seeing my point of view and seeing logistically what we could do about it. They supported me. It was a very hard phone call to make to Melissa and Missy (ASU coaches). They’re supportive of their athletes and they want them to do well. I talked to them after my win (in Albany). I’m very thankful for the experience and was happy to have the opportunity to play D-I golf.”
In the fall, she started what would be a whirlwind of a start to her pro career. She hopped back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean for LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour Qualifying Second and Final Stages and earned status on both tours.
Sweeney played 15 events in Europe and nine on the LPGA Tour including two majors in her first professional season. She took every experience as a learning opportunity.
“I learned a lot playing in Europe,” said Sweeney. “I wasn’t really in contention but I was a few times. I was learning how to make money and make cuts and mentally dealing with everything. I realized I can’t play 11 weeks in a row or I’d want to give up the game.
“The best part was being able to travel and learning how to travel,” said Sweeney. “It wasn’t like I wasn’t flying first class. I was middle seat a lot (laughs). It wasn’t glamorous but it was pretty cool.”
Sweeney had a season-best T14 at the Turkish Airlines Ladies Open and made two cuts on the LPGA Tour including the RICOH Women’s British Open. With some quality experience playing all over the world, she looked forward to the 2012 season with some clear goals in mind.
“My goal was at the beginning of the year was to play all of the events and give myself the opportunity to play and get my LPGA Tour card,” said Sweeney. “I don’t like Q School. If I need to go back I will. I’ve been to final stage three times. I got conditional status once and missed the cut once and inside the top-20 last year and had a horrible last round. My goal is to end in the top five on the money list.”
Sweeney has made the most out of the ten starts she has had so far on the Symetra Tour and missed only one cut, with only three finishes coming outside the top-30. But the highlight came in Albany, NY when she earned her first-professional victory at the Credit Union Challenge.
“The win was a really big deal for me,” said Sweeney. “I proved to myself that I could put together rounds and back it up. I played really well. I only made three bogeys that week. I didn’t realize what I did the last six holes until the reporter asked me how it felt to birdie four out of the last six. And I said wow ‘that sounds a lot better than what I thought I did.’”
Sweeney said the end of the final round in Albany tested how she would handle the high-pressure situation and how well she could deal with nerves.
“I didn’t really look at the leaderboards,” said Sweeney. “There weren’t many which I think was a good thing. I was trying to figure out how to work looking at them because some people say look at the leaderboards and some say don’t. I knew where I stood. I wasn’t saying to myself ‘oh I have plenty of holes’ but I stayed really calm and was able to not really freak out. The only time my dad would say I sort of freaked out was after I walked off No. 16 after making a birdie putt and saying I really hope there wasn’t a wait on the 17th tee box cause it was a momentum thing. My dad was really calm which was funny because he wasn’t really amped up.”
Sweeney’s dad, Joe, has been a constant on her bag since the Midwest swing earlier in the season. The daughter says she’s more than appreciative of his help and support throughout the year, but will look for a non-family member to loop when she makes it to the LPGA ‘for the sake of our father-daughter relationship.’
With the one of the major accomplishments in her career behind her, Sweeney learned that with such a big up, somewhat of a letdown tends to follow.
“It’s a little bit of a downfall,” said Sweeney. “I said ‘that was great, but it doesn’t mean anything now.’ It’s hard to swallow. I told my dad, ‘I went on such an up, and kind of came down hard.’ I was getting angry in South Bend. I told him ‘I have never felt this angry.’ But it was just part of the down from such a big up.”
Sweeney made both cuts following her win and is optimistic about making her way back into the winner’s circle this season.
“It’s very hard to back up a win,” said Sweeney. “I’ve learned a lot from it. I would love to get another win this year. I’d like to hold a lead to see how I handle it. I don’t think I could’ve handled shaking for 18 holes.”
Currently sitting in the top-10 in the Volvik Race for the Card rankings, Sweeney realizes she’s in a good situation, one that all of the other players on Tour are gunning for.
“I’m happy to be in the position I’m in and not on the outside looking in.”