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.'
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    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner

    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray

    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard

    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”