Sweeney prepares for new journey on European links

BRADENTON -- The portraits line the hallway inside the golf shop at IMG Academies’ campus. They reveal images of former students who have gone on to the professional game.

For Bradenton’s Jaclyn Sweeney, getting asked to have her picture taken for the wall was the first step in having that professional label become a reality.

“I think after my first year on tour, and I look back and see if I succeeded on my goals or not, then I’ll really have it sink in,” Sweeney said. “But for right now, it’s fun. It’s working toward a goal. I want my first win, and I want my first top 10. It’s all different achievements that will come throughout the year.”

Sweeney embarked on her professional life after her junior season at Arizona State University finished in 2010.

The decision came in mid-July prior to the Canadian Amateur, Sweeney said.

So, she left the college game for a life in the professional world.

That meant trying to qualify for the LPGA Tour. After getting through the sectional phase, Sweeney played in the final stage in Daytona Beach in December, but missed out on full-time status as final round conditions wreaked havoc for the field.

“It was pretty bad. I teed off earlier, and it was just really windy,” Sweeney said. “We were playing the ball up, because they thought we were going to have really bad conditions. ... I didn’t play well on the front nine. I had a whole stretch of six holes that I just literally needed someone to give me a club, point me at the target and say, ‘Just believe in yourself.’ So I struggled a little bit, and actually played better and shot even-par in the worst weather on the back nine when it was raining sideways and cold.”

So, she hopped on a plane and headed to Spain for the Ladies European Tour Q-School.

Once there, the elements she had to battle through in Daytona Beach helped pave the way toward a runner-up finish and full-time playing privileges.

However, the LPGA Tour announced it would award additional conditional berths.

Sweeney said her Category 20 status will get her into 2-4 events for the 2011 season, but can gain exemptions into major events based on how she fares on the LET’s Order of Merit.

For now, she said she’ll play 20 events for a full LET schedule.

And before she plays in her first LET event in Australia in February, Sweeney is honing her skillful game at the practice facilities offered at IMG Academies.

Watching with a careful eye is her instructor, David Whelan.

“She drives it long,” said Whelan, who also teaches Paula Creamer. “She’s tall. She has a good, wide swing arc. She hits it every bit as far as the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour. If she can improve her scoring shots, then she’ll be able to compete at the highest level.”

The Andover, Mass., native has worked with Whelan for several years, beginning when she left the northeast for the sun-splashed Florida weather.

Growing up just north of Boston, Sweeney played practically every sport -- aside from hockey and football.

But then as a 14-year-old, she had to choose what high school varsity sport she would play. Sweeney picked golf with a neat wrinkle -- she would play on the boys team.

“They couldn’t talk as much about what they wanted to,” she said.

Sweeney said she was set to play lacrosse, when she transferred to Florida.

From IMG Academies, Sweeney headed to Oklahoma State, but the college lifestyle wasn’t quite right yet. A transfer to ASU was in the cards.

“Two of my best friends played on the team,” Sweeney said. “So it was a lot easier and a lot more fun whereas Oklahoma State, I was the youngest player and kind of walked in with a very cocky attitude and stayed that way. So, I was a little less cocky at ASU and cared a lot more about my team.”

Playing at a well-known party school tested her resolve.

“You had all these other opportunities, especially at ASU, to go and not practice,” she said. “And it made you really realize what you want to do. And I knew golf was what I wanted to do, so I kind of had to buckle down and block out the distractions.”

Sweeney stayed on track and helped ASU win the 2009 National Championship.

Sweeney’s flourishing amateur career was highlighted with medalist honors at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

And although she was knocked out during the match play portion, Sweeney’s game continues to improve.

And in less than one month, she’ll trek across Europe and abroad with that professional feeling finally sinking in.