All golfers have goals relative to their ability and Casey Danielson, among the most decorated players to come out of Wisconsin in recent years, is no exception.
Her immediate goal is to finish among the top 10 money winners on the Symetra Tour money list this year, which would earn her a promotion to the LPGA in 2020.
Danielson, though, describes her goals as temporary stops on a journey that never ends. Achieve one goal, she said, and another immediately looms on the horizon. With plenty of time to talk Tuesday morning as she drove from her home in Osceola to Brown Deer Park for the fifth annual PHC Classic, she explained:
“You have your successes along the way but you’re always working on something, always trying to get better,” she said. “You win a tournament and you still have to get ready for the next week. You make it to No. 1 in the world and you’ve got to try to hold that spot. So, I’ve always seen golf as a process and I think that’s helped me in both the tough times and the good times.”
Danielson has had her share of both. A high achiever as a junior (Rolex Junior All-American), high school player (four-time WIAA state champion) and collegian (helped Stanford University win its first-ever NCAA women's title), she was crushed when she failed to get through the first stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament in 2017, months after turning pro.
“I was bummed,” she said. “I had a really good senior year. I was looking forward to starting my career and then I had one bad week and I was really bummed. So, I explored my options. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Just weeks after that disappointment, Danielson won the Ladies European Tour Qualifying Tournament in Marrakesh, Morocco. She made seven starts on the LET in 2018, played in the Women’s British Open and finished second in the Women’s NSW Open.
“I got to have some cool life experiences,” she said. “The European Tour was a lot of fun. I made a lot of new friends and I’m thankful for that. And also playing on a different stage, it helped me prepare for the LPGA and all the travel. I think it adds another element to a tournament when you go overseas and the LPGA goes overseas a lot.”
This year, Danielson has stayed stateside as she tries to play her way onto the LPGA tour. She goes into the PHC Classic No. 24 on the Symetra Tour money list with $32,823. It’s the 17th of 23 tournaments on the 2019 schedule, so while opportunities remain to move up, there is a growing sense of urgency.
The winner of the 54-hole tournament, which gets under way Friday and concludes Sunday, will earn $18,750. Danielson hasn’t won in 25 starts over one full season and parts of two others, but last year she shot 69-70-65 at Brown Deer to tie for third. In 2017, she tied for 14th in the PHC Classic as a sponsor exemption making her Symetra Tour debut.
“It’s just home for me,” she said when asked about her success in Milwaukee. “It’s a classic Wisconsin tree-lined golf course. I’m comfortable on the grass. It’s how I grew up playing the game so I feel really comfortable there, and being in my home state it’s so much more fun to play. I’ll hear people (in the gallery) say ‘On Wisconsin’ and that means a lot to me.”
Danielson’s season thus far has been marked by consistent play – she’s made 11 consecutive cuts and has broken par in 14 of her last 18 rounds – but slightly disappointing results. She has just one top-10 finish in her last eight starts dating to mid-May.
“The year has been a bit of a roller-coaster but that’s to be expected,” she said. “That’s golf. You just learn from the low points and you move on and you get excited about the small successes that you’ve had. I’ve definitely had a lot of all of it. Whether it’s getting used to the lifestyle or if it’s on the course, ups and downs with my game, with my putting, with my finishes on the tour. I’ve had a bit of it all. I’ve had two missed cuts and two top-five finishes and everything in between.”
Her ball-striking, always a strength, has been more than good enough. She ranks 23rd in greens in regulation (73.7%) and 41st in driving accuracy (77.3%). Putting, though, has held her back. She is averaging 31.17 putts per round, which ranks 95th.
“I think that’s typically how my game goes,” Danielson said. “My ball-striking is definitely my strength. It’s always there for me and I’m really thankful for that. It’s always my short game I’m working on, and right now it happens to be my putting.
“I’m just kind of exploring all options right now. I feel like I’m in a place where I kind of have to re-set and start new in a way. It’s a bit frustrating that that’s where I’m at with seven events left this season but it could change really quick. Hopefully, something clicks and they start falling. You never know when that’s going to be.”
She arrived at Brown Deer Park armed with several putters and some green-reading tips from her younger brother, Charlie, who is 14th on the PGA Tour non-member earnings list with $223,748 in just four starts. He tied for seventh recently in the Barracuda Championship.
“Charlie gave me some green-reading advice (Monday),” Danielson said. “We played at Troy Burne (in Hudson) and he gave me a few of his old putters to mess around with. I’m definitely going to put some of his tips into play this week.”
She feels close to turning the corner and will have close friend Austin Gaugert on her bag this week and for the rest of the season.
“I haven’t been playing my best but I’m a couple shots away from being in contention,” she said. “I take it as a positive that I’m not playing my best and I’m still finishing in the top 30, hanging in there and waiting for stuff to click.”