MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Dakota Cunningham was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2017.
“We really didn’t know where we were going,” his mom Tricia Cunningham said.
The only way his dad, Steve Cunningham could describe it was a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from. He remembered, “Literally picking him up in my arms and carry him to the bathroom, to going to therapy in a wheelchair, learning how to walk on a walker, learning how to take his own steps again.”
But the mentality of Dakota and the Cunninghams was it could always be worse.
According to Tricia Cunningham, “He would always say, what choice do I have, what choice do I have? I just have to do what I have to do.”
That fighting mentality carried Dakota through his treatment at St. Jude. And also, to the golf course, where he fell in love with the game.
“I just kind of latched on to it and it’s been really fun and I just really enjoy it,” Dakota said.
Dakota never let leukemia stand in the way of his golf dreams. The day of the Junior High Final Championship in October 2019 was just one example.
“The morning of the tournament, I hear him throwing up. I walk upstairs he’s on his hands and knees and he’s puking in front of himself on the floor,” Steve said.
But Dakota still wanted to play that day.. Turns out, that day he shot his first round under 70 and won it all by 9 strokes.
“It’s incredible to shoot 69 at this age, but like I said to do it on treatment, that takes it to a whole other level,” Steve added.
Dakota finished his final round of treatment in January. In early April, he hit another golf milestone. His first hole in one.
“I was hitting it really good that day,” Dakota laughed. “That morning I had practiced a bit and I knew I was hitting it really well. I had no clue.”
Clutch shots was nothing new for Dakota, at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational last year, he sank a 5-footer to raise $50,000 for St. Jude. With the help of Justin Rose. Who reached back out to Dakota after hearing of his big shot.
“That’s such a great feeling buddy and something many golfers who play their whole life never get to experience,” Justin Rose said in a video message.
“It’s kind of like a way to push me along keep me going stuff like that through hard times,” Dakota said.
“The things that you’ve been through are clearly tough, but they’re going to stand you in great stead for the rest of your life," Rose said.
According to Dakota, his dream is to play golf at a Division I school and go on to have a pro career.