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
  • Full Coverage - Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open
     
    Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
     
  • Getty Images

    Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
    Getty Images

    Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

    By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

    Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

    Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

    Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

    Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

    12/1: Dustin Johnson

    16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

    20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

    25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

    30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

    40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

    50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

    60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

    80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

    100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

    Getty Images

    Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

    By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

    If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

    Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

    Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


    Updated Official World Golf Ranking


    There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

    There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

    Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

    John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

    Getty Images

    Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

    By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

    Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

    Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

    Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

    “I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

    But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

    “I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”