WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Last December, Jaclyn Sweeney applied for six jobs in the food and retail industries. The mini-tour pro wanted a side gig to help pay for groceries and the landscaping bill at her parents’ second home in Bradenton.
No one called her back.
At her boyfriend’s urging, she got on Craigslist and saw an open call posted for Eat Here in nearby Siesta Key. As a frequent diner at the local hotspot, Sweeney gave it a try.
“(The woman doing the hiring said), ‘You have no experience in anything,’ ” Sweeney said.
Sweeney, 23, responded that she was a quick learner and wound up landing a job as a hostess. It was her first real job with a guaranteed paycheck.
“The service industry is very hard,” Sweeney said. “It’s amazing how many people don’t say thank you or please, and get in your face because they want to move their table.”
This is what’s known as a reality check, and it has done wonders for this young woman.
Sweeney won the Symetra Tour’s season-opening event in snowy Mesa, Ariz., last month. She birdied three out of the last four holes to win her second career Symetra Tour title and take the early lead on the money list. Her goal this year is simple: Win three tournaments and make a boatload of cash.
This week, she’s teeing it up in the tour’s second event, the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic, in Winter Haven.
As a freshman in high school, Sweeney moved from Massachusetts to the IMG Academy in Bradenton to prepare for life as a professional athlete. The Bradenton bubble, though popular, offers no guarantees.
Sweeney landed a college scholarship to Oklahoma State, but left midway through her sophomore year to attend LPGA Q-School. When she didn’t get her card, Sweeney transferred to Arizona State for the second semester. She didn’t last very long there either, announcing her plans to skip her senior year and turn professional after the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Q-School and Sweeney “don’t get along,” and so far she has yet to earn her full card on the LPGA. She has competed on the Symetra and Ladies European tours. In 2012, she played in 15 events on the Symetra Tour and finished 13th on the money list, with $31,926.
Sweeney said it was her decision to go back to Arizona State and finish her degree. She takes her classes online, and pays for them herself.
“It was time to be an adult and start taking care of what needed to be taken care of,” she said.
When Sweeney won in Mesa, she was up at 5 a.m. working on a calculus review. There was a great fear that she wouldn’t pass the course and have to pay for it a second time. It’s $4,500 for Sweeney to take 12 hours, or a full semester.
The new Sweeney now has a life outside of golf. Most of her twentysomething co-workers at the restaurant don’t play golf or know anything about it. After her Symetra victory, her boss at Eat Here asked if she had won a junior tournament.
For two years, Sweeney thought it was the end of the world if she missed a cut. Now she’s happier trying to keep a more well-rounded perspective. She joined the tour’s Player Advisory Group to try and take a more pro-active approach.
“The real struggle is just making sure I keep that attitude throughout the course of the year and not to complain,” she said, “not do things like I’ve done in the past.”
And with that, Sweeney left to go mark the course to help speed up play. She’ll get no money for that kind of work, just added respect.