Jenny Gleason sat in her bedroom in Clearwater, Fla., the one Danielle Downey helped her paint a couple of Thanksgivings ago, and reminisced on her free-spirited friend. Downey, never one to shy away from hard work, got a job as a painter one off-season.
“I didn’t let ‘Deuce’ pick the color,” Gleason said with a chuckle.
Downey, a spur-of-the-moment kind of gal who went by the nickname “Deuce,” was the life of the party wherever she went. So when phones starting lighting up around 2 a.m. Friday as news of Downey’s sudden death made the rounds in golf’s tight-knit sorority, hearts everywhere sank.
That smile, the infectious one that’s seared in the hearts of so many, won’t be seen again.
Downey, 33, died in a car crash late Thursday in Auburn, Ala., on her way home from dinner. The Auburn graduate was the director of golf operations for the Tigers and filled in as head coach last spring after Kim Evans was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Evans broke the news to the team early Friday morning.
“I’m absolutely devastated,” Evans said.
Downey was pronounced dead in the emergency room of East Alabama Medical Center at 10:58 p.m., about an hour after the single-vehicle accident, according to a report on Al.com, which cited Lee County coroner Bill Harris.
Friends of Downey’s spoke often of her unselfishness.
“Danielle would give you the shirt off her back,” said Auburn alumna Nicole Hage. “And if she didn’t have a shirt, she’d spend all day finding one for you.”
Hage had just spent time with Downey in Pasadena, Calif., at the BCS title game. Downey was Auburn orange and blue to her core.
“There was no one who loved the team aspect of college golf more than Danielle,” said former teammate Courtney Swaim Trimble.
Trimble first met Downey at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions in the summer of ’98, just before she started her career at Auburn. She told Downey, a native of Rochester, N.Y., to look into joining her there the next year.
Downey fell ill with mononucleosis on her recruiting trip but was so impressed by how Evans and the team took care of her that she committed to the program on her way home.
“Even mono wasn’t going to keep her from Auburn,” said Kristy McPherson, who joined Downey on that trip during Halloween 1998.
Little did Downey know that 15 years later, she’d return the favor to Evans in a big way.
Evans was diagnosed with cancer days before the 2013 NCAA East Regional. She relied heavily on Downey, who was back in Auburn to finish her degree and working as an assistant coach, to lead the team in regional action at their home course. Downey not only helped the 14th-seeded Tigers advance, she also led them to a sixth-place finish at NCAAs.
“Danielle did everything from take the team to the NCAA Championship to pick up (after) coach’s dogs in the backyard,” Trimble said.
If it needed to be done, friends could count on Downey to do it.
While at Auburn, Downey was a three-time All-American, winning the 2000 SEC Championship and finishing a school-record tie for second at the NCAA Championship.
“The bigger the tournament, the better she played,” Trimble said.
Trimble said that Downey, an all-around athlete, had the talent to land a Division I basketball scholarship in addition to golf. She held several records at her high school in Rochester.
After Auburn, Downey played on the LPGA and Duramed Futures Tours, winning on the developmental circuit in Lima, Ohio. Gleason battled Downey down the stretch in 2004 at the Lima Memorial Hospital Futures Golf Classic, and, like many, considered Downey one of the most competitive people she had ever met. She also was an exceptional ballstriker.
“For such a skinny little snot, she could get it out there pretty good,” Gleason said.
Some of Gleason’s best memories of Downey are going over to her condo’s garage to throw darts with the girls. When defective Chinese drywall pushed Downey out of her condo for a couple of months, she crashed down the road at Brittany Lincicome’s home.
“It didn’t matter what we were doing,” Lincicome said, “it was going to be fun if Danielle was around.”
When Downey’s playing career stalled, she took to caddieing on the LPGA, mostly for Australia’s Sarah Kemp, who friends say was like a sister to Downey.
Downey is survived by her parents, Mike and Phyllis, and sisters Erica Setzer, Melissa Sage and Shawna Tomasso. Trimble said Downey lived to bring joy to the lives of her three nieces and three nephews.
“(Going to) Rochester was cool because we got to hang out with all the Downeys,” McPherson said.
The truth is, Downey’s family spanned the globe. She lived with such zest that she left a mark on countless souls.
Trimble, now the head coach at Louisville, shared the news of Downey’s death with her players Friday, urging them not to let something small get in the way of friendship.
Life is precious, Trimble told them, and teammates share a forever bond.
“That’s something that can never be taken away from you,” Trimble said.
Even when all that’s left is memories.