Varsity player and coach, LPGA Tour player
So far, only one Yale graduate, Heather Daly-Donofrio (Class of 1991), has won a professional golf tournament on a major United States golf tour. In 2001 she won the First Union Betsy King Classic on the LPGA tour. Then she did it again in 2004, winning The Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions. How she got to Yale and became a golf champion is an interesting story.
At age eight Heather Daly came to compete at the Payne Whitney Gym pool as a member of the Norwalk Water Rats. Later that day she informed her mother that she was going to attend college at Yale. At thirteen she was swimming there regularly as a member of the New Haven Swim Club team, coached by Yale’s Frank Keith. At age fifteen, she taught herself to play golf by reading instruction books and by trial and error, using a set of aluminum-shafted clubs that her uncle had bought at a tag sale. She played for the Roger Ludlow High School team, coached by a non-golfer. True to her word Daly applied only to Yale, where she had been recruited for both the swim and golf teams.
At Yale most of Daly-Donofrio’s time outside the classroom was spent on the golf course. She was still learning to play, without instruction, by just playing. Often she would not make it back to Berkeley College for dinner. After two years, she quit the swim team to concentrate on golf. She was not the best player on the team that won the Ivy League championship two times, but as coach of both the men’s and women’s team, David Paterson saw more potential and predicted that someday she “would be a great player.” After one semester of her junior year spent at Oxford, Daly-Donofrio “learned how to study,” and returned to a straight-A senior year and cum laude graduation. Instead of going to law school, she decided to give professional golf a try for one or two years.
Winning the Connecticut Women’s Amateur Championship in 1992 and 1993 was encouraging. Not so encouraging was working for $5 an hour, cleaning clubs and carts at Jonathan’s Landing Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, while playing “mini-tour” events, and trying to qualify for the LPGA Tour. Even though Daly-Donofrio won four mini-tour events over the next five years, she “went broke several times.” In 1997 to have “a paying job with benefits,” she accepted the offer to coach the Yale women’s team. At the end of that year she qualified for the LPGA Tour.
For three years Daly-Donofrio played 20-24 LPGA events and coached Yale to the Ivy League championship in 1997. In 1998 she and Raymond Howell were married. By 2000 Daly-Donofrio “was exhausted by her various roles” and gave up coaching, because “the girls weren’t getting what they had signed up for.” She was elected by her peers to the LPGA Player Executive Committee in 2003 and became the LPGA Tour president in 2005. At that time she was also co-chair of the search committee to select a new LPGA commissioner. Also in 2005 she received the William and Mousie Powell Award, “which recognizes an LPGA player who, in the opinion of her playing peers, through her behavior and deeds best exemplifies the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” The late Mousie Powell, wife of Hollywood legend William Powell, had been a supporter of the LPGA since the 1950s and donated this award in 1986. Since then, some of the other winners have been Kathy Wentworth, Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, JoAnne Carner, Betsy King, Judy Rankin, Meg Mallon, Suzy Whaley, and Juli Inkster. The new commissioner, Carolyn F. Bivens, and the executive committee made changes in the tour structure and administration during 2006 that Heather believes assure a bright future for the LPGA.
Heather’s future also became clearer in 2006. Her first child, Hannah Daly Howell was born. For those who have assumed that her married name was Daly-Donofrio, let the record show that Heather Daly took the name Daly-Donofrio at age twenty to honor her maternal grandfather. With her presidency behind her and a three-year exemption from qualifying, thanks to her Tour Championship victory, she and Hannah returned to the tour full time in 2007 (with the rotating help of her husband and mother). Her winnings in the first four events put her career winnings to more than one million dollars in her tenth year on tour. As she began 2007, she didn’t expect to play beyond her period of exemption, and, she said, “At some point I wouldn’t mind working in sports marketing or for the Tour.”
The year 2009 might be Daly-Donofrio’s final year on the LPGA Tour, but Yale will still be represented. Jeehae Lee came to Yale from South Korea and graduated in 2006. Like Heather Daly-Donofrio, she was not the best player of her cohort, but she contributed to Yale teams that won the Ivy League Championship twice, in 2003 and 2006. She was the low amateur in the 2006 Connecticut Women’s Open, but, by her own account, she managed only a mediocre record as a professional on the Duramed Futures tour in 2007 and 2008. She was ranked 78th on that tour, but persistence and hard work paid off. Surprising everyone but herself, she won one of the coveted twenty spots on the 2009 LPGA Tour, with a strong finish at Q-School in December of 2008.