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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Kelly Jo and Mike Dowd cheer on Dakoda's tee shot on the first hole, which she birdied.
Dakoda Dowd, 13, teeing off on No. 12, ended the first round tied for 55th. The top 70 plus ties will make the cut, putting Dowd in position to be the youngest to accomplish the feat.
REUNION - The day began with a rainbow glowing outside their room, and the symbolism was not lost on Mike Dowd. He scurried to get his daughter, Dakoda, and his wife, Kelly Jo, not wanting them to miss what he thought was a sign that a beautiful day lay ahead.
If he only knew.
A few hours later, Dakoda was fulfilling her mother's dream of playing in an LPGA Tour event, making birdie at the first hole and bringing tears to Kelly Jo's eyes.
"If there was a Cloud 10, I'd be on it," said Kelly Jo Dowd, who is fighting cancer but followed the entire round Thursday in a cart, getting out to watch from the ropes and overjoyed at what she was witnessing.
With several hundred spectators lining the fairway and a media horde not seen following a 13-year-old golfer since Michelle Wie started turning heads, Dowd shot an impressive 2-over-par 74 on the 6,531-yard Reunion Resort course.
And it put her in position to make the 36-hole cut, which would be an extraordinary accomplishment, making her the youngest in LPGA history (Wie holds the record) to do so. Dowd was tied for 55th when play was suspended by darkness, and the top 70 and ties make it to the weekend. But it will likely require a score as good or better today.
"There is no way I'm going to think about that," she said. "I'm just trying to have a good time. Whatever happens, happens."
She will have plenty of good memories to take into the round. Dowd hit the first eight greens in regulation, often outdriving Kate Golden and Tracy Hanson, both of whom were pros before Dowd started walking.
Dowd finished with one birdie and three bogeys. At one point, she parred 12 consecutive holes.
"There has to be a better word than excited," Kelly Jo said. "I have to come up with my own vocabulary to describe it. I am so happy to be alive to see this. The word proud seems so minimal. ... This has been the greatest week of my life.
"To be honest, I did not think she would do poorly. I am not surprised. I thought she would do well. Her attitude was just so good."
Dowd, who lives in Palm Harbor, has been receiving national attention since the fall when the Ginn Co. offered her a sponsor exemption to play in the inaugural $2.5-million event after learning of Kelly Jo's illness.
Kelly Jo was diagnosed with cancer nearly five years ago, had seemingly overcome it, then learned in May that it had returned. That and Dakoda's golf game - which has garnered her numerous age-group titles - have focused attention on early breast cancer detection.
But few expected the story to include Dakoda playing so well and on such a grand stage.
"It's exactly how I would have drawn it up," Mike Dowd said. "A dream realized, 2-over par. It's amazing. So proud. But the score doesn't mean anything, really. I know she's mad at herself for bogeying the last hole. She was doing well and you get greedy. But it doesn't matter a bit."
The day began with a rainbow because of overnight rain that pushed back the start one hour. That didn't bother Dakoda, who got up on the 10th tee (her first hole, a par 5) and ripped her drive past both playing partners. After a hug from her mom, Dakoda proceeded as if it were another round of golf.
A 4-wood second shot to 30 yards short of the green, a pitch to 2 feet and a birdie putt got her on the scoreboard at 1 under.
"It made everything go a lot easier," she said. "It gave me a little bit more confidence and made me breath easier."
Dowd three-putted the 11th and 14th greens and missed makeable birdies at the 12th and 15th holes. But she kept churning out par after par until her last hole, the par-5 ninth, where she got a bad break when her second shot came to rest on an up slope in a 5-foot wide patch of rough. "I kind of chunked it," she said.
From there, she was unable to get up and down, posting her only 6.
Still ... Dowd hit 14 greens in regulation. She hit 11 of 14 fairways. She'd love to reduce her 34 putts, but even that could not put a damper on the day. She matched the opening-round scores of accomplished players such as Morgan Pressel, Laura Davies, Grace Park and Seminole's Brittany Lincicome and bettered the 75 by Karrie Webb, who a few weeks ago won the LPGA's first major, the Kraft Nabisco. Cristie Kerr led the tournament by two after 65, one of just five scores in the 60s.
"She's got a lot on her shoulders, and she did a great job," said Hanson, 34, a 12-year LPGA Tour veteran who shot 69 and said she lost her mother to cancer. "I was so impressed. She's going through this at 13. ... I had a hard time at 26. She's handled this so well.
"She's got a good foundation and she has a lot of growing to do. She has all the potential in the world. Dakoda was a joy to play with."
The Dowds did a lot of dreaming about this day, but it was tough to imagine it going this well.
"God reached down from the moment we walked out the door with that rainbow," Mike Dowd said. "He touched us today."