Dying Mothers Dream Realized at Ginn Open

By Associated PressApril 15, 2006, 4:00 pm
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Like so many 13-year-olds, Dakoda Dowd has big plans.
 
She wants to live in a New York apartment when she heads to college in five years. She'll be a bass guitar player by then. Maybe even a champion figure skater, too.
 
Barring a miracle, her cancer-ridden mother won't be around to see her daughter -- one of the country's top golfers her age -- realize any of those dreams. But mother and daughter will get to share another one real soon.
 
'This isn't about golf,' Dakoda says. 'This is about my mom, and her getting to see me play.'
 
Kelly Jo Dowd's wish -- perhaps her dying one -- is to see her little girl compete against the world's best. So Dakoda, a winner of countless junior events, will tee it up in the LPGA's Ginn Open near Orlando on April 27-30, after the Ginn Resorts heard of the family's plight and extended the invitation.
 
'It will mean everything to me,' says Kelly Jo, who is fighting cancer for the second time in four years. 'It's obviously a dream come true. There's no other way to put it. I'm going to take that day as one of the most special days in my whole entire life. This is a chance for me to do what I want to do.'
 
What she wants to do is this: Let women know she has terminal bone and liver cancer -- and, realistically, only months to live - because she didn't heed the warning signs. She ignored a lump and waited months to get checked. And through Dakoda's golf, the family hopes to get that message out to the masses, in part from the hubbub generated by the girl's appearance in the LPGA event.
 
But this is no publicity stunt. She can play.
 
'She's got talent,' says Annika Sorenstam, one of Dakoda's idols and the women's top-ranked player who met her earlier this month and watched her swing. 'She can really hit the ball. She's got a great head on her shoulders. She's really strong and her attitude is really something great.'
 
The story really begins about five years ago.
 
Dakoda was 8 and already earning national acclaim for her golf potential, becoming the subject of magazine articles that are framed and displayed in the living room of the family's tiny condo in a Tampa suburb.
 
It was December 2001, and Kelly Jo -- a former Hooters calendar cover girl who worked her way out of the orange waitress shorts and into the company's management team -- noticed a lump in her breast.
 
She was 36 years old. Ten months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
 
'I'm not supposed to get this disease,' Kelly Jo says. 'I'm not obese. I don't smoke. I drink, but not nearly like I used to. There wasn't breast cancer in my family. I'm not a statistic. But I got it.'
 
So she fought it. Double mastectomy. Nearly two dozen lymph nodes removed. Intense chemotherapy. Every hair on her body fell out, her skin lost its glow and she felt nothing like the head-turner she once was.
 
'There's something that keeps me young at heart and willing to fight,' Kelly Jo says. 'And that's Dakoda. She's why I keep fighting. In the beginning, I wasn't going to. And how stupid was that? It's embarrassing for me to admit that. Anyone who doesn't fight and fight with their all is stupid.'
 
The first fight seemed won -- until last May, when doctors found the cancer was back and worse than ever, now in her hip bone, her liver and nearing her spine. This time, Kelly Jo vows to fight harder; she started another round of chemotherapy April 6.
 
'When we had the opportunity to give Dakoda an exemption, I really didn't think about it,' says Bobby Ginn, the CEO of Ginn Clubs and Resorts. 'The strength they have individually and collectively is just unbelievable. I don't know if I could stand up to the pressure they're feeling right now.'
 
Kelly Jo met Mike Dowd in the mid-1980s at the Hooters restaurant where she worked. They'd strike up the occasional conversation, and eventually started dating. Eleven weeks later, they were married, and 5 1/2 years after that, they had a daughter to whom they gave a unique name.
 
Mike had two older daughters from a previous marriage, both of whom have names that begin with 'K.' He wanted to keep that trend going, but Kelly Jo preferred the name 'Dakota.' Eventually, they agreed on 'Dakoda,' which Mike shortened to 'Koda.'
 
'Got my 'K' in there,' he says.
 
She started golfing at 4, and made her first birdie before she turned 7. She's shot 70 from the men's tees and would be in the mid-60s if she played from shorter ones, her father says. She hits her driver long and true, and is confident enough to have photographers stand 30 yards in front of her while she swings.
 
'I won't hit you,' she calls out.
 
Sure enough, the photographer is unharmed, although Dakoda giggles when one ball whizzes a little closer to his head than he'd like.
 
'This family is almost like the perfect storm in this,' says Hooters co-founder Ed Droste, whose chain has raised more than $56,000 for the Dowd family and their medical expenses. 'Kelly Jo and Mike just want to tell it like it is for women. And Dakoda is the blend of these two great people. I just dread when it's down to being two of them, because the three of them together are so great.'
 
Golf, Dakoda says, is a release from the reality of her family's situation -- even though the reminders are everywhere when she plays. There's a pink breast cancer ribbon embroidered on her bag, and her mother's initials 'KJ' are embossed in pink letters on her irons and putter cover.
 
Her father wears the initials, too. On his right wrist is a tattoo with the initials 'KJD' with two ribbons for his wife, and 'DFD' with a cross for his daughter. The 'F' stands for Flowie, Dakoda's middle name and the name of a sister Mike Dowd lost to ovarian cancer in 1991.
 
'I want it to be at the forefront of my life for the rest of my life,' says Mike, a counselor in the Pinellas County school system. 'This whole process has been one horrible thing and 100 great things. It's tragedy and triumph. Every day, people treat my wife the way God wanted us to all treat each other. How many of us get that opportunity?'
 
Now that they're down to one income, the family sold its home and moved into a 600-foot condo at the Westin Innisbrook resort, site of the PGA TOUR's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and where Hooters arranged for Dakoda -- who sleeps in the living room -- to play golf whenever she wants.
 
'The only thing I really, really want is for my mom to be better,' Dakoda says. 'And my own room.'
 
They are, by all accounts, a regular family. They eat at Whataburger, McDonald's and Olive Garden. They just have a girl who hits a golf ball better than most people, and a mother who's sicker than most.
 
With her dream about to come true, one of Kelly Jo's outlets these days is trying to raise money for groups such as MakingMemories.org, which grants wishes to people diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. She and Dakoda also schedule mother-daughter days, so both can get their shopping fix.
 
Most importantly, though, the family just wants to be together, for whatever time they have left.
 
'Anything special that Dakoda does that I'm able to be here to see is the next special thing for us,' Kelly Jo says. 'It could be a tournament she wins. A day of shopping. Going to a concert together. Whatever comes next is what's special. The bottom line is it'll be her and me together, at least a little while longer.'
 
Related Links
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  • Day finishes strong, leads Aussie Open by one

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 6:12 am

    Jason Day birdied three of his final five holes to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand in Sydney:

    Leaderboard: Day (-10), Lucas Herbert (-9), Jonas Blixt (-7), Matt Jones (-7), Cameron Smith (-6), Rhein Gibson (-5), Anthony Quayle (-5)

    What it means: Day has a great shot at his first victory – in his final start – in 2017. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Day, who has dropped to 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking. A win this week, in his native Open, would be a huge boost as he embarks on the 2018 season.


    Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


    Round of the day: Day’s 2-under 69 wasn’t the lowest of the day, but it was the most important. Day parred his first 13 holes before birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. He bogeyed the 17th, but finished with a birdie at the par-5 18th for the outright lead.

    Best of the rest: Blixt’s 66 put him in position to win. Meanwhile, Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65, to reach 4 under for the tournament.

    Biggest disappointment: No one really blew it on Saturday, but Jordan Spieth was unable to make a move. His 1-under 70 has him eight shots off the lead. Herbert managed an even-par 71 but he had a two-stroke lead until an errant tee shot at the par-3 11th. Speaking of which …

    Shot of the day: Not every Shot of the Day is a great shot. Herbert made a long birdie putt on the eighth and was two clear of the field through 10 holes. But he hit his tee shot long at the 11th and was not able to find it. He had to re-tee, made double bogey and lost his advantage. He’s now chasing a major champion in the final round.

    Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 4:30 am

    Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.

    Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

    “I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”


    Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


    The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.

    Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.

    “Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.

    Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.

    “Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”

    South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

    By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

    South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

    Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

    Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

    Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

    So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

    Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

    The fourball results:

    LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

    LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

    LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

    KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

    LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

    LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

    NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

     

    Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

    By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

    In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

    Made Cut

    The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

    Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

    “I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

    Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

    Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

    This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

    Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

    Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

    The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

    Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

    Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

    The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

    First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

    “You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

    A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

    “The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

    For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

    Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

    “I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

    Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

    “Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

    Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

    Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


    Missed Cut

    Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

    Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

    “That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

    Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

    While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.