As she teed off the par-5 18th hole on the final day of the First Union Betsy King Classic, Heather Daly-Donofrio ’91 was certain she would need at least a birdie to protect her precarious one-stroke advantage and win the tournament outright. So when she sliced the ball into the woods and managed only par, the former Yale player and coach began to prepare for a sudden-death playoff.
But on Aug. 26 — after four years on the LPGA Tour and several near wins — Daly-Donofrio finally got her break. Mhairi McKay three-putted the final hole, missing her chance to draw even, and Daly-Donofrio walked away from the Berkleigh Country Club in Kutztown, Penn., with her first Tour triumph and first top-10 finish of the year. She finished at 15 under par with a four-round score of 273 (65-71-68-69). McKay and Moira Dunn were co-runners up at 14 under.
Daly-Donofrio performed with moxie as she birdied five holes on the last day and persevered through injury, illness and a case of the jitters. After shooting a career-low 65 in the first round, she nearly had to withdraw because of back spasms. And on the back nine of the last day, she suffered a stomachache and some on-the-verge-of-victory nervousness.
“This was a real hurdle for me to get over,” Daly-Donofrio said. “I always knew that I could win, but it was always a question of [whether I was] mentally tough enough to win.”
In winning the Classic, Daly-Donofrio became a Rolex First-time Winner, an award given to LPGA members after their first Tour win. She also received a $120,000 cash prize — moving her from 68th to 40th on the LPGA Tour money list.
For four years, Daly-Donofrio split her time between Yale’s women’s varsity golf program and the LPGA Tour. After guiding the Elis to three Ivy League titles, she decided last year to join the Tour full time. But she still plans to devote time to Yale’s program.
“I hope I can still help out [at Yale] this fall,” she said. “There are a couple of girls that I am close to because I helped recruit them, and I would love to see them through.”
But the win at Kutztown has opened the doors to more professional opportunities for Daly-Donofrio.
“This is my career, and now my schedule will change with this win,” she said. “I am not sure how or what I get to play in, but from time to time I’ll be around to pop in and check on [the Yale team].”