May 18, 2013 11:31:07 PM
STARKVILLE -- Ginger Brown-Lemm couldn't be more excited about her first trip to the NCAA Championships as a head coach.
Not only is Brown-Lemm making history as the first coach to take the Mississippi State University women's golf team to the event, she also is the first coach of a team from the state of Mississippi to make it that far.
"I'm still sky high from what happened last week, and I'm not shy at all to say that," Brown-Lemm said. "This program is ahead of schedule of where I thought they'd be, but these young ladies decided they didn't want to wait."
Twenty years ago, Brown-Lemm's coach at the University of Texas, Pat Weis, made her last career NCAA Championships appearance at the UGA Golf Course at Athens, Ga. Brown-Lemm will make her first NCAA appearance at the same course when the event begins Tuesday.
The 6,372-yard, 72-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones and renovated former Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has played host to five national championships and a Nationwide Tour event.
Brown-Lemm and MSU will arrive in Athens today for the 72-hole event with arguably the nation's best player in the past month: Ally McDonald. McDonald won the individual title of the NCAA Central Regional last week at Norman, Okla., with a 10-under-par 206 that was five shots clear of the field even after a double bogey on the final hole. Following her victory against a field that included 12 players ranked in the top 50, Golfweek Magazine named McDonald national player of the week.
"The double bogey is not how I wanted it to end, but when I was at 14 with the leaders four or five holes behind me and I was five or six shots up, I knew I had it won," McDonald said. "Needless to say, to be at 10-under after a double bogey made me feel a lot better about myself."
After posting a 1-under-par 69 in the first round, Brown-Lemm knew McDonald was in a position to win the event . McDonald cemented that belief by slam dunking a shot from 139 yards with an 8-iron.
"Sometimes I wasn't able to look at what we were doing because it was too surreal," Brown-Lemm said. "That shot was one of those surreal moments. There were moments I thought I was going to have a minor cardiac issue with excitement."
Earlier this week, McDonald finished two strokes shy of making the cut for the United States Women's Open at a qualifier at Cantigny Golf in Wheaton, Ill. Starting Tuesday, McDonald will lead the youngest lineup in the NCAA championship field with an average of two years experience. MSU is one of two teams without a senior on its roster.
"We have a team that is so calm, cool, and collected when they play that for a coach, it's about a 30-second discussion and then off they go," Brown-Lemm said. "Do you know how comforting that is for a coach?"
MSU is the third-lowest ranked team (No. 40 according to GolfStat.com) in the 24-team field, but Brown-Lemm knows she has players who knew they weren't supposed to advance to the NCAA Championships based on those rankings. MSU defied those numbers by posting three-straight sub-300 rounds for the first time this season to finish third in the NCAA Central Regional.
"We've talked all year long about just playing our game without regard to who is in the field or who you're paired with," Brown-Lemm said.
Junior Mary Langdon Gallagher will become a second-generation player to compete in the NCAA Championships. Her father, Jim Gallagher, Jr., who played on the PGA Tour, competed in 1980-82 as a member of the University of Tennessee. Her mother also appeared in four NCAA finals while at LSU.
After an opening-round 76 last week, Gallagher fired a second-round 72 followed by a final-round 1-over-par 73. The Greenwood native birdied hole No. 9 and moved to 1-under at the turn. She shot a 2-over on the back to finish tied for 30th.
McDonald and her teammates said they have never seen the UGA Golf Course but will use their inexperience to their advantage. They said they plan to have two days of practice before the event begins at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
"We're all getting better at adapting to the circumstances and obtaining more shots in our bag," Brown-Lemm said. "Ally is the best at that for us when you think there's a 30 mph wind and you need to keep it below the wind, like in Oklahoma last week."
McDonald isn't going to let her lack of experience with the UGA course be a problem. Last time she played an unfamiliar course, she walked away with the medalist trophy in Oklahoma.
"I like playing a course for the first time because as a golfer we have more negative memories than we do positive and by playing a new course, you don't have any memories at all," McDonald said.