Danielle Lemek describes herself as a perfectionist. The 2016 Bradley graduate puts in countless hours of meticulous practice until all aspects of her golf game are to her liking. Her dominant golfing career has been based on this laser-focused work ethic, which bred a dream she’s had since she was four years old.
The fruits of Lemek’s labor are about to pay off. By receiving her Symetra Tour Status after competing in the LPGA Qualifying Tournament last fall, Lemek’s dream of becoming a professional golfer is turning more real by the day.
“Growing up, I knew it was always a possibility,” Lemek said. “After winning [the Missouri Valley Conference] championship my sophomore year, I knew I had what it takes. Now I want to go and compete on the LPGA tour, not just [smaller] tours.”
The process for earning a professional license is a three-stage process, beginning with “Q-school” (or LPGA Qualification tournament) in August. However, Lemek suffered a “freak injury” to her ankle just two weeks before the tournament, hindering her playing ability. She missed the first round cut and failed to move on to stage two of qualifying by one stroke.
After missing the cut, Lemek said she debated for weeks whether she wanted to pursue a professional career. After some reflection, Lemek decided that nothing was going to stop her from accomplishing her goal, she declared her professional career just two weeks ago.
“I was debating not even going to Q-school,” Lemek said. “But I just pushed it in physical therapy, doing two weeks of therapy on my ankle in five days. It was the most brutal and hardest mental hurdle of my life.”
Lemek also had to face a separate hurdle – funding. Golf equipment, membership fees and travel expenses run up quite the bill, and because she doesn’t have time outside of training to raise money, she needs some help. Lemek estimates she will need $35,000 in donations to help spur her career, according to her GoFundMe page she set up two weeks ago.To date, Lemek has raised $425.
“Some people don’t understand how expensive it is to pursue this dream and career path,” Lemek said. “This is a full time job, but I’m paying to play this game [without making money].”
If Lemek can raise money and completely heal from her grade-three ankle sprain, which she says is healing well, she’ll certainly have the skills to compete with the best. The Nebraska native is one of the most decorated golfers in school and conference history. Lemek set multiple career records, including a round average of 74.37 strokes and 111 rounds in the 70s. Lemek also holds the Bradley single-season record for most top-10 finishes with nine.
Women’s golf head coach Mary Swanson emphasized the massive impact Lemek had on the women’s golf program.
“From a competitive standpoint, her records will be hard to break, as she obviously set the bar very high,” Swanson said. “Her impact goes beyond scores, as she has helped to establish a culture of excellence within our program that will last for years to come. Her and the other two members of her class ‒ Allison Walsh and Jenna Roadley ‒ all made a unique contribution in that way.”
Lemek’s collegiate dominance and recognition expanded into the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference, too. She was named Freshman of the Year in 2013 and proceeded to win Player of the Year honors throughout her remaining three years of playing.
While immediate success might not come quickly when her professional career begins, Lemek clearly has reasons to be confident in herself when she begins professional play, a date she says is not yet set.
“It never hits you when you’re doing it,” Lemek said, regarding her collegiate accomplishments. “My dad and I were talking, and it’s weird to say I’ve done all that in four years. It doesn’t seem like it was me, but it was me. I worked really hard to get to that point – I’d come early to practice and stay late. I tried to put in as many hours possible to be as successful as I can be.”
Lemek’s perfectionism doesn’t let her rest on her laurels. While some would be over the moon after a collegiate career like hers, Lemek is using the successes and missed opportunities from her final season at school as motivation to push her forward.
“My senior year I was so close to having a perfect season,” Lemek said. “I had a lot of outstanding rounds, but I’d have a couple where I lost focus, and something would go wrong. I’d still shoot in the 70s, but not close enough to contend for a tournament championship … I was so close to having a stellar year that it really made me want to try a pro career even more because maybe next year is my year.”
“Next year” is here, and as Lemek rehabs from her ankle injury and raises more money, she said she hopes she’ll have many more years of living her dream.