This morning members of the Auburn athletic family and the LPGA were shocked to learn that one of their own, Danielle Downey, former LPGA Tour player and the Director of Golf Operations for Auburn University, had been killed in single car accident.
The accident occurred at approximately 10 p.m. Thursday near Lee Road outside Auburn. The northbound vehicle left the road and flipped several times. Downey was rushed to East Alabama Medical Center but was pronounced dead at 10:58 p.m.
Downey, a former Auburn standout who led the Tigers women’s golf team to SEC Championships in 2000 and 2003, played both the LPGA and LPGA Future Tours and was known as one of the friendliest players in any event she entered.
“It’s horrible wake up to this kind of news under any circumstances, but it’s doubly tragic when it’s someone as vibrant and happy and nice as Danielle,” said former LPGA player Brandi Jackson, who competed with Downey at both the college and professional level. “She was always someone you could talk to, always someone who would have an upbeat word no matter how she was playing or what was going on around her.”
“I’m absolutely devastated,” Auburn women’s golf coach Kim Evans said through a statement. “Danielle meant so much to me, the girls and this program. Not only did she give much of her life to Auburn as a student-athlete and as a mentor to these young women, but she was so instrumental to this team during some tough times over the past year. Danielle was like a daughter to me.”
Downey took over the Auburn women’s golf program on an interim basis in 2013 when Evans was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Through her calm leadership the team advanced through the East Regionals to the NCAA Finals, where the Tigers finished sixth, their highest finish there in eight years.
“I can’t think of anyone else who could have stepped in and done the job that Danielle did,” said former LPGA player Angela Jerman, a contemporary of Downey’s who competed against her on tour, and in the SEC when Jerman played at Georgia. “I have to believe she was put at Auburn during that time for a purpose.”
Interacting with Downey during the 2012-13 season, a bright future seemed apparent. Not only did those who worked with her believe that she would lead a women’s golf program at some point in the near future, many assumed she someday would become an athletics director.
All those who knew her speak about her charm and quick wit.
“She was always the bright spot in the day,” Jerman said. “She loved her hometown of Rochester and every time I played in her charity event up there she was like the mayor and chamber of commerce rolled into one.”
Downey was an outstanding player. She was an All-American in 2000, 2002 and 2003, and holds the Auburn record for best finish at the NCAA Championship, tying for second in 2002. She earned seven top-10 finishes on the Futures Tour including a victory in the 2004 Lima Memorial Hospital Classic. Her best finish on the LPGA was a tie for fourth at the 2008 Bell Micro Classic.
After her playing career, she caddied for friends like Sarah Kemp and Laura Diaz.
“In early 2011 Danielle started caddying for me and quickly became my best mate,” Kemp said through a written statement. “To say I had fun with her walking the fairways around the world would be an understatement. She was every word that means good and will be missed unbelievably. She had the power to make you smile so much your cheeks
Diaz had similar fond memories. “She caddied for me during a time when I was struggling and she helped me keep it light and keep it fun again,” Diaz said by phone on Friday. “I remember a time when she was caddying for me at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Canada. The towel had come off the bag back by the tee, and I said, ‘I’ll get it.’ She said, ‘No, I’ll race ya.’ So, we both sprinted to get the towel. It was just fun, laughing and joking and always having a good time. That was her.
“She was doing great things at Auburn and will be deeply missed by all. She touched my family, the tour and the Auburn family, and I can’t imagine what the girls and coach Evans are going through right now.”
The circumstances of the accident still are under investigation, although authorities confirmed that she was not wearing a seatbelt.
“This is a tragic and devastating loss for Danielle’s family, our student-athletes and staff and the entire Auburn family,” Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs said. “Danielle cared deeply about people and she was loved by all who knew her.
“She impacted a lot of lives here as a player and a member of our staff. Our hearts go out to Danielle’s mother and father, her sisters and all who knew and loved her. She will be dearly missed.”
Downey is survived by her parents, Mike and Phyllis Downey, and sisters Erica Setzer, Melissa Sage, and Shawna Tomasso.