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Dakoda and Dying Mom Embrace the Moment

2006 Ginn OpenREUNION, Fla. -- When her family moved from a spacious house into a tiny townhome, Dakoda Dowd gave more than 100 of her golf trophies away, saying she didn't need to keep them.
She added one to her collection Friday -- and it's not going anywhere.
Adding to what her cancer-stricken and terminally ill mother, Kelly Jo Dowd, called 'the perfect week,' the 13-year-old golf prodigy and her family received a replica of the winner's trophy on the 18th green early Friday evening after finishing her second round at the Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open.
Dakoda -- who shot an 82, eight shots higher than her Thursday score -- missed the cut by eight strokes.
Nobody minded, of course.
'I'm prouder today than I was yesterday that my daughter has the courage and strength to play with these LPGA professionals,' Kelly Jo said. 'And I feel great right now. I feel great. My dream came true out here. I saw my girl play with these amazing women. My dream came true.'
The scene shortly after Dakoda tapped in for a double bogey on the 18th was one normally reserved for champions, and Ginn tournament officials felt the Dowd family certainly qualified as such. Knowing that Kelly Jo adored the large Chihuly glass bowl that'll be awarded to the winner on Sunday, a replica was made.
A scant few were in on the secret, which was kept from Kelly Jo and Dakoda -- both of whom gasped when the gift was unveiled.
'I didn't want it to be over,' Dakoda said. 'And it is. And with all the prayers and everything, me and my mom and my family are going to keep living. It's definitely touched us. Our family's so much stronger now.'
The touching ceremony capped Dakoda's first LPGA Tour experience.
She was invited to play after event organizers learned that Kelly Jo -- who doctors say may only have months to live -- wanted to see her daughter play against the pros once in her lifetime. So Ginn organizers offered a sponsor's exemption, which eventually became a special exemption through the LPGA.
'She's a good player now, and she's going to be a really good player,' said Kate Golden, who and Tracy Hanson were the pros in Dakoda's threesome. 'I enjoyed it. She's a good kid. Her parents are great and it was a good experience. I'm so glad she was able to play.'
Golden and Hanson even had a bit of fun with Dakoda, giving her a nickname: 'Nubby.'
'She was chewing her fingernails for two days straight,' Golden said. 'I said she's going to have to meet people with her elbows, because eventually she was going to chew her arm off.'
Dakoda's gallery was the second-largest on the course Friday, an estimated 300 people. Tournament officials said only the superstar-laden trio of Annika Sorenstam, Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer had more people following their round.
'It's crazy. Absolutely crazy,' said Mike Dowd, Dakoda's father. 'I think this is great for Dakoda. She does love it. Makes it a lot more fun for her, unlike all those days of practicing with no one around.'
And on almost every hole, someone -- often someone Kelly Jo didn't know -- approached her, simply to say hello or give her a hug. 'Thank you for being here,' she would say, before getting back into her cart and being shuttled to the spot where Dakoda would play from next.
'I love the crowds,' Kelly Jo said. 'All it means is people are cheering for us and respecting my little girl and wanting us to do well. So I love it. I'm so proud of it.'
Dakoda was tied for 53rd after the first round, beating or tying 15 women who've combined to win 33 major championships. Among them: Karrie Webb, Birdie Kim, Jeong Jang, Grace Park, Meg Mallon, Karen Stupples and Hilary Lunke -- all major winners at some point in the last three years.
And long after Thursday's round was done, Kelly Jo took Dakoda to work on her driving.
Alas, no golf clubs were involved.
'We did some mother-daughter bonding,' Kelly Jo said. 'I let her drive the car in a secluded parking lot. She did great. Then we cranked up some music, Pink's 'Stupid Girls,' and just danced right there. And then we went swimming. It was wonderful. We had fun. That's what this week has been about for us.'
Dakoda hit a perfect drive to open her second round, straight down the middle and longer than her two pro playing partners. She opened with three straight pars -- prompting whispers among her supporters that maybe, just maybe, she could make the cut.
Wishful thinking. Too wishful, actually.
Dakoda made three straight bogeys on Nos. 4-6. Another bogey on the ninth pushed her to 6 over for the tournament -- two strokes off the eventual cut line, and she never flirted with it again.
She made a double bogey at No. 12, hitting one putt off the green as her mom's head slumped. Another bogey followed at 13, and Dakoda couldn't hide the disappointment on her face as she slowly walked away. Yet when she failed to get out of a greenside bunker on 18, she spun and smiled sheepishly.
'It's OK,' one woman yelled.
'Don't worry about it,' a man shouted.
'You can do it,' added another man.
Her next try did get out of the bunker and hit the green. Hanson and Golden both putted out first, leaving one last moment for Dakoda. And when the last putt Kelly Jo's hands went skyward, index fingers raised.
Moments later, mother and daughter shared another long embrace. And Dakoda, one day after chiding her mother for crying on the course, broke into sobs.
'She made mama's cut today,' Kelly Jo said.
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