MANATEE -- There's a little more at stake than usual for Jaclyn Sweeney in this week's LPGA Symetra Tour Guardian Retirement Championship.
It's not just another tournament for the 23-year-old professional, who lives in Bradenton but hails from Andover, Mass.
That's because the Boston Marathon bombings hit close to home for Sweeney, whose sister lives in Boston. She still has several ties to the area.
"It's my hometown, and I never thought anything like that would ever happen there," Sweeney said. "... Of
course, I'm very proud to be from the Boston area. And it puts things in perspective that it's a game, and it's a game for entertainment like the Red Sox or Bruins went out and played a sport for entertainment. ... Anything I can do from a standpoint of my earnings at the end of the year, if I can figure out a way to donate some of the money I have earned to the funds to help the victims back up there, I'm going to do my best to figure that out at the end of the week and at the end of the year."
Sweeney has already won once this year, earning a title in Arizona -- the state where she played collegiately -- and has risen to No. 2 in the Volvik Race for the Card standings.
The top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list at the end of the season will be awarded a LPGA Tour card. Sweeney was on the bubble last year down the stretch and was left on the outside looking in. She is hoping to secure three wins this year for the automatic promotion to the top tour.
Sweeney's focus isn't just on golf these days.
After missing her chance to play the LPGA Tour as a full-time member for the third straight year at Q-School, Sweeney examined things she wants to accomplish in her life.
One of those items was returning to school and finishing a business communication degree. Sweeney departed Arizona State early to pursue a pro career, but is getting closer to snagging a degree to fall back.
Sweeney also found a job as a hostess at Eat Here on Siesta Key, but due to the increased nature of her schedule between classes, she left the gig recently.
However, both decisions -- to find a job and to return to school -- have instilled a different outlook on golf for Sweeney
"It's one of those things; it's not your whole life," she said. "Golf was my whole life for so long. I went to IMG and went to school, it was my life. I think stepping away from it and having other things going on is helpful."
Now her attention is on a jewel of Manatee County: Sara Bay Country Club, the venue for this week's Symetra Tour stop. Sweeney has played the course frequently and is considered a favorite to win for the second time this season based on her solid play and knowledge of the tricky Donald Ross-designed course.
"This golf course, if you're not playing well -- I don't care how well you know it -- ... it can really bring out your weaknesses," Sara Bay head pro Daren King said. "But since she's playing well and she knows it well, I think she has a really good shot at it."
Sweeney is tied for fourth in scoring average, 10th in greens in regulation and first in rounds under par this season.
Entering the year, Sweeney changed her equipment and switched to using Vokey wedges in a men's weighted shaft. Those clubs helped produce low scores en route to the championship at the VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic.
With the Symetra Tour's break between tournaments (roughly a month between the stop in Winter Haven and this week's event in Manatee County), Sweeney has sharpened her game on the West Florida Golf Tour, competing against male mini-tour pros. Recently, she shot 70 at the Founders Club from the combo tees, but mainly was teeing it up all the way back like the men and notched an eighth-place finish.
"She's a true professional. She knows how to play golf, you can tell that by watching her," WFGT tournament director Christian Bartolacci said. "You can tell she knows what she's doing when she's out there, and she obviously has an amazing short game. Because to play a golf course that long and to shoot that score, you better be able to be chipping and putting. And she obviously did that that day."