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Fish hooked on pro golf

Texas native chasing dreams on Symetra Tour

Dennis Grall photo Shannon Fish will make her sixth appearance in the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass.

HARRIS — Shannon Fish understands the life she leads is special.

Before joining the Symetra Tour five years ago, Fish spent two years working in her family’s business, selling generators, which came after she finished a college diploma and golf career at the University of Texas.

“There are just a small percentage of people who can play a sport for a living,” Fish said Tuesday while participating in a media day at Island Resort and Casino. “I certainly appreciate it a lot more than I did coming out of college.”

Fish will play in her sixth Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass June 18-24 (the tourney runs June 22-24). She has seven top 10 finishes on the Tour, which serves as the Road to the LPGA, including 2015 and 2016 at Sweetgrass.

Fish, a native of Spring, Tex., has earned $82,512 to date. She tied for 58th this past weekend at the Symetra Classic in Davidson, N.C., then drove to Maryland, caught a plane to Green Bay and drove here Tuesday morning. She returns east to play in this weekend’s Valley Forge Invitational in Pottstown, Pa.

“I’ve learned how to travel,” said Fish, who normally drives to events by herself and prefers to stay in local homes, which she has already scheduled in Escanaba next month.

“It is definitely a grind, but you have to roll with the punches,” she said of the demands of life as a professional golfer with 22 tournaments on this year’s schedule.

“I’ve improved every year I’ve been out here. I’m healthy and I am still very happy with what I do,” she said, indicating some swing changes have helped eliminate a hitch in her backswing. “It makes it easier that I’m chasing this dream. I certainly cherish every moment playing golf for a living.”

Helping negotiate the demands of her chosen profession is her mother, the former Yvonne Townsend, a onetime LPGA player who serves as coach and confidant.

Acknowledging she has missed numerous birthdays, weddings and holidays to follow her journey to the LPGA Tour, Fish said “it is not a sacrifice to be out here. I get to chase my dream the whole year.”

Her journey hopefully will include where her mother performed, on the LPGA Tour. “I am a very goal-oriented person and my long-term goal is to compete for at least one full season on the LPGA,” she said. “I feel I certainly belong there. My belief in myself keeps me going.”

The top 10 players on the Symetra Tour automatically gain their LPGA card each year, and many former Sweetgrass participants are on that tour this season, including 2017 Island Resort champion Emma Talley, currently No. 43 on the LPGA earnings list.

Among other former Sweetgrass entrants on the big tour are Mo Martin, who won the British Open several years ago, 2013 Sweetgrass winner Kim Kaufman, 2015 champion Dani Holmqvist, 2016 winner Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong and 2017 participants Brittany Marchand and Lindsey Weaver.

While that is an impressive list, the success of her peers does not really enter into her thoughts.

“I don’t compare my career to anyone else’s,” Fish said. “Every journey is different. It is just like every golf swing is different.”

Fish’s journey was highlighted in 2016 by making the cut in all 22 tournaments — including fifth at Sweetgrass — while finishing 24th in earnings with $37,873. Last year she made 13 of 21 cuts and made $20,319, with a season-best sixth place finish at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa tourney.

The winner of the 2007 Texas Women’s Open, Fish was a contestant on Golf Channel’s Big Break Atlantis and Big Break NFL.

This year’s Sweetgrass tournament has two exemptions in the field of 144 women, former Stanford University player Casey Danielson of Osceola, Wis., who helped the Cardinal win the 2015 NCAA championship, and Jordy Labarbera, a senior at the University of Arkansas who has ties to Marinette, Wis.

Danielson won the qualifying school championship for the Ladies European Tour after the 2017 season.

Excitement is starting to build around Sweetgrass for this year’s eighth annual tournament, especially considering the course is perhaps in the best shape it has been at this stage.

Assistant tourney director and Island Resort general manager Tony Mancilla said expectations are high again based on the success of past events. “You can see a high percentage of LPGA players who have played here,” he said, adding this tournament prides itself on “a great course, a well-run tournament and getting spectators out.”

Tim Kramer, a Symetra Tour official, said Sweetgrass “is a really high caliber course.” He said the hospitality of the tourney hosts, spectators, etc. is special. “Our players are spoiled rotten when they come up here. That makes the players’ experience better and makes the spectators’ experience better.”

He also said “this is by far the best event we see of the 22 events on our tournament schedule. We are indebted for everything we have here.”

Kramer said the Symetra Tour has shown tremendous growth in the past five years, noting the average tourney purse has risen from $105,000 to $140,000 and adding “every player looks at the Symetra as a viable way to the Tour.

“There is such a good funnel of talent. International players coming over here have raised the bar. We have enhanced the international field. We showcase the very best globally on the Symetra Tour.”

Kramer said that improvement has been displayed this year as four players who started the season on the Symetra Tour have already earned enough in LPGA events to gain membership on the primary tour this year.”

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