Downey Wins on Futures Tour

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Futures TourLIMA, Ohio -- After four missed cuts in five tournaments, rookie Danielle Downey wondered if she was good enough to play on the Futures Golf Tour. Or skilled enough to call herself a professional.
 
The highest she had finished as a pro during the first five tournaments of her inaugural professional season was a tie for 57th. That was a far cry from the days when she won the New York State Amateur Championship three times, or when she won three college tournaments and posted three top-six individual finishes at the NCAA Women's Golf Championship.
 
'Just last week, I was questioning whether I belonged with all of these players out here,' said Downey of Spencerport, N.Y., a three-time All-American at Auburn University. 'At every level, you look back and see what you've accomplished, but none of it means anything to anyone out here.'
 
But a little of her history stepped into her future today when Downey became the first American to win this season after eight Futures Tour tournaments. She simultaneously claimed her first win and first top-10 finish at the $65,000 Lima Memorial Hospital Futures Classic at Lost Creek Country Club.
 
And she charged onto the leader board in dramatic fashion today in the rain-shortened event. Downey birdied the first hole and played her front nine at 1-under 34, making the turn at 2-under par. Then she stepped up to the 10th tee -- one of the most challenging holes on the course -- choked down a 3-iron and knocked her 186-yard, uphill tee shot into the cup of the par-3 hole for an ace. That one shot tied her for the lead at four under par.
 
'I just wanted to hit the green,' said Downey. 'I didn't see it go in. Then I heard everybody scream.'
 
But Downey wasn't finished. She rattled in three more birdies on the back nine, including a 60-foot slam-dunk on the 18th green from the front fringe. It was an exclamation point at the end of her career-low professional round. Downey fired a final-round 65 to finish the week at 7-under-par 135, on the par-71, 5,897-yard course. This year's event, presented by WLIO/NBC and the WB, was looking for a new winner in its 11th staging.
 
'It's a great finish for her and she had a magical day,' said former Auburn teammate Celeste Troche of Asuncion, Paraguay, who carded her own final-round 68 and tied for second at 137 (-5) with Marcela Leon of Monterrey, Mexico and non-exempt LPGA Tour member Kim Augusta of Rumford, R.I. Leon posted a career-low round of 66, while Augusta came in with a final-round 67.
 
Lost Creek Country Club took a beating earlier in the week when heavy rains pounded the course Friday morning, then added a total of 2 1/2 inches of rain by Saturday morning. With creeks on the course causing flash floods and floodwaters turning at least three holes into lakes, Saturday's second round was canceled, shortening the 54-hole tournament to 36 holes.
 
Tournament organizers were concerned when today's forecast called for more afternoon rain. Friday's first round wasn't completed until this morning. Once 30 players finished Round One, an 18-hole cut was made at 74 (+3). Seventy-one players of the 144-player field went back out on a sunny day that made Saturday's washout only a distant memory. Players were on the highways by the time another storm ripped through the area around 7:30 p.m., dumping more rain on an already saturated golf course.
 
'I'm so glad we finished,' said Augusta, who used 24 putts to post her season-best finish for second place. 'It was a week of patience. We can't control the weather, so you just have to make the best of it, hang in there and see what happens.'
 
Prior to her arrival in Ohio this week, Downey traveled home to the Rochester area and worked with her pro, John Hoecker, for three days. She turned a nasty hook into a fade, and resurrected her confidence coming into this week. Most of all, she listened to her sister Erica Downey, who suggested that Danielle try treating Futures Tour events like the NCAA Championship.
 
'She really opened my eyes when she asked me why I had been such a good post-season player in college,' said Downey. 'So I came out here this week pretending this was the national championship.'
 
That strategy and her resulting win didn't surprise Kim Evans, her former coach at Auburn University.
 
'It's just a matter of her getting into the groove,' said Evans of her former college player. 'She always got up for big tournaments and she has the capability of going low. One thing I've seen is if Danielle ever gets into the hunt, she'll win.'
 
Downey won the Southeast Conference Championship her freshman year and beat current LPGA Tour player Beth Bauer of Duke University twice for two other collegiate titles that first season. Her coaches always knew she had the goods to win. Her teammates always knew they could depend on Downey to hold up her spot on the team.
 
'I played with her for four years and never trusted anybody any more than Danielle on the golf course,' said former teammate, Troche, playing in her second season.
 
That's also why former Auburn University assistant coach Shannon Hanson, who was playing alongside her former player in today's final round, smiled as her group climbed the stairs to the 18th tee box. She told Downey to take a deep breath and enjoy her final hole.
 
'Danielle was solid and she handled her game very well,' said Hanson, who finished tied for 22nd. 'I wasn't even in the hunt, so of course, I was cheering for her.'
 
Maybe now, Downey can cheer a little for herself. Maybe those two winning games of 215 that she bowled against friends during Saturday's washout, or the $500 she collected for her first professional hole-in-one, or the $9,100 winner's paycheck now in her hands are the validation she needs to know that she's a winner.
 
Or the confirmation she has waited for that a new chapter of her professional journey has finally begun.