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St. Joe teen competing with the pros at Four Winds Invitational

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - This weekend is all about business for the LPGA's Symetra Tour pros at the Four Winds Invitational.

But for a certain player in the field, it's more about learning.

“I’m really excited to just see how I play this weekend," said Cailey Rooker. "[I'll] just try to do my best against all these girls and watch them and how they act on the golf course. It’s a great course to be at, so I’m really excited.”

Rooker, a teen from Southwest Michigan, is heading into her senior year at St. Joseph High School. She is also one of the area's best young golfers.

Thanks to that pedigree, combined with academic excellence and community impact, Rooker earned one of the spots for a sponsor exemption, allowing her to compete at the annual tournament at Blackthorn Golf Club.

While the chance to compete was a welcome surprise, her growth in the game has been steadily building for the last few years.

“When she was about 13 or 14, she showed up one summer and had a swing that was totally different than the previous year," Cailey's father Paul remembered. "She could actually hit the ball out there with a little authority, so I knew something was up.

Paul, close to the game himself, introduced golf to his daughters, and is now watching Cailey thrive both in high school competition and in Benton Harbor's "First Tee" program.

"Each year, [she's] taking another step and level, and raised it up," he said. "It’s all pretty cool.”

As they have been the entire way, Cailey's parents will be along for the journey. Her father even has teh chance to carry her bag and provide guidance on the course.

“However I play, whether good or not as well as I hope to play, I know they’ll be supportive of me the whole way," Cailey said.

“It’ll be a good experience," Paul added, "and she’ll be able to play against some stiff competition. It’s very cool to be able to participate and be helpful and just watch her grow in her experience.”

That experience has grown at the same time Michiana's golf status has risen.

Just last month, Rooker spent an entire week learning from the professionals at the Senior PGA Championship played in Benton Harbor. She even personally joined legend Collin Montgomerie for a time as well.

“I went down there every single day," she said. "I took off school of course and was able to watch all the pros and that was really fun. They make golf look so easy of course, so I’m trying to make it look easy out here.”

Easy or not, the fact that Cailey is in the field at all is an accomplishment itself, which she says is all thanks to her Michiana roots.

“They’ve done a lot to support me to be where I am today, especially here. So it just means a lot being able to represent the area.”

Rooker's group is set to tee off at 12:31 p.m. in Friday's opening round.

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