She might have been a great swimmer at Yale, but then the game of golf got in her way. Making it all the way to the LPGA is proof that Heather Daly-Donofrio's switch from the pool to the links was a wise one.
Heather Daly-Donofrio played four successful years of golf for the Yale Bulldogs, coached the team to two Ivy League titles and has been on the LPGA Tour for nine years with two victories.
So how did Daly-Donofrio decide to attend Yale? For the swim team, of course.
Daly-Donofrio began swimming competitively at age 5. Growing up in Connecticut, she had her first taste of Ivy League athletics at age 8 during a meet at Yale's famed Payne Whitney gymnasium.
"The pool and stadium seating was the most magnificent I had ever seen," Daly-Donofrio said. "The other swimmers and I would roam around Payne Whitney in between races, exploring all the nooks and crannies. I fell in love with Yale right then and there and actually told my mom that Yale was the school for me."
Daly-Donofrio's adoration for the Bulldogs strengthened when she was competing for the New Haven Swim Club as a young teenager. Yale's own Frank Keefe was one of the coaches for the team.
"He didn't always run practices, but I always loved it when he did," Daly-Donofrio said. "He was an icon and commanded such presence on the pool deck."
It was during a break from her swim training in the spring of her freshman year of high school that Daly-Donofrio began her golf career. She was fortunate to find out that her school had a girls' golf team and desperately needed players.
"I knew very little about the sport at the time and dug out some old clubs from the garage to start playing," Daly-Donofrio said.
Daly-Donofrio's foray into high school golf was successful enough that she was able to join Yale's golf team, along with swimming for the Bulldogs her first year in New Haven.
It was during her sophomore year that Daly-Donofrio decided it was time to put her focus into one sport. Telling her idolized coach that she would be leaving the pool was a daunting task.
"I was so nervous going into Frank's office to tell him I was quitting the team," Daly-Donofrio said. "I had so much respect for him. The greatest thing he did for me when I told him I wanted to focus on golf was to let me go."
But Daly-Donofrio was lucky enough to have another inspirational leader in veteran golf coach Dave Paterson.
Paterson, a PGA tour veteran, "preyed on" Daly-Donofrio's competitive side and challenged her to push herself on the golf course. During one golf trip, Daly-Donofrio's dedication to the game impressed her coach.
"Everyone else was horsing around and I pulled a whiffle bat out of the van and started practicing my golf swing," Daly-Donofrio said. "Coach Paterson came over and told me that I was going to be a great player one day. I never forgot that."
Daly-Donofrio excelled in the classroom, as well as on the links for the Bulldogs, graduating cum laude in 1991 with a degree in history. After her successful tenure at Yale, Daly-Donofrio turned professional in 1993.
She bounced around the mini professional tour, the Futures tour for a few years and qualified for the LPGA tour in 1997. She also served on the LPGA board of directors for four years, with two years as President. Daly-Donofrio received the William and Mousie Powell Award in 2005 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.
Daly-Donofrio returned to Yale to coach the women's team from the fall of 1997 through the spring of 2000, winning two Ivy League team titles in that time.
Daly-Donofrio's latest achievement is the birth of her daughter, Hannah. She plans to join the other 26 LPGA tour members who are also full-time moms and play a full schedule in the 2007 season. With the help of her husband, Raymond Howell, and the LPGA's full-time daycare, Daly-Donofrio looks forward to the challenge of golfing as a mom.
"I am sure I will have a difficult time leaving Hannah in the mornings to go play and I know my mind will wander with thoughts of her while I am on the course," Daly-Donofrio said. "I think I will have more separation anxiety than she will. It will take some time for me to get mentally focused on my career."
Daly-Donfrio looks to other LPGA tour moms Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst as role models for balancing the demands of full-time competition and motherhood, but appreciates what her profession has provided for her.
"One benefit of playing professional golf is that I will actually have more time with Hannah than I would with a nine-to-five job."
— Josi Carlson