Dowd shoots a 74 for her ill mom

Friday, April 28, 2006

The 13-year-old prodigy fulfills a final dream.

REUNION, Fla. -- Dakoda Dowd watched her golf ball take flight, then walked toward her terminally ill mother.

The 13-year-old gave her a hug and said simply, "Mom, don't cry."

"I don't get how women cry when they are happy," Dakoda said later. "Who cries when they are happy?"

With that, the tears stopped, and a day the family will forever cherish began.

Dakoda, a golf phenom from Palm Harbor, Fla., competed Thursday in the LPGA Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open -- her first women's professional event.

Her mission was not to win, but to make a memory for her mother. And on that count, Kelly Jo couldn't have been more pleased.

"Fantabulous," Kelly Jo Dowd said. "I have to make up my own vocabulary to describe it."

Tournament organizers whose organizers extended the invitation to play after hearing of the family's plight. Dakoda finished the day with a 2-over-par 74, nine shots behind leader Cristie Kerr.

"I didn't have any expectations for this tournament, except to go out there and have a great time and look over and see my mom," said Dakoda, a winner of more than 100 tournaments and ranked among the nation's best 13-year-old players. "It did feel good shooting 74. I'm just really happy to be here."

So is her mom, on a number of different levels.

Kelly Jo Dowd is fighting cancer for the second time in four years. She was given a clean bill of health after doctors believed she beat breast cancer, but she learned last year that she has terminal bone and liver cancer -- and, conceivably, only months to live.

She wept and smiled when the starter announced Dakoda on the tee box as "a remarkable young lady." And the tears stopped when Dakoda hit a perfect drive down the left-center of the fairway to open her round -- setting up her only birdie of the day, one that followed an approach to 2 feet on the 528-yard par-5.

"She's playing with a heart full of love for her mom," said Mike Dowd, Dakoda's father. "The kid's got this in her, but I think this is more about God doing something for our lives right now. We walk out of our house this morning and see a rainbow. Then a birdie on the first hole. Come on. There's something else going on here."

When Ginn officials learned of Kelly Jo's wish to see her daughter play on the LPGA Tour, they offered a sponsor's exemption into the field. Dakoda was paired with Kate Golden and Tracy Hanson -- both at least 21 years older than the phenom -- and held her own, even outdriving both pros on a couple occasions.

Golden told Kelly Jo before the round not to worry, that "we'll take good care of your girl." And Hanson was particularly touched by Dakoda's story, since cancer claimed her mother nearly eight years ago.

"God knocked me on the head and said, 'Now, wait a minute. You have a purpose and a reason for being in that group,"' said Hanson, who shot 69. "I lost my mom to cancer, so it's very near and dear to my heart, their story. And it was a little emotional there on the first tee."

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