April 3, 2014 9:43:02 AM
STARKVILLE -- Ally McDonald is about to become a worldwide name in her sport.
The Mississippi State junior golfer might be the first MSU student-athlete to wear red, white, and blue and not be given a hard time. Last month, she was selected to represent the United States in the 2014 Curtis Cup Match on June 6-8.
For a player who could be recognized as the best amateur player in the state and at MSU, McDonald will compete against a team made up of eight of the top players from Great Britain & Ireland. According to the world amateur golf rankings, McDonald will be the fifth-best player among the 16 participants.
"When you think about it, really sit down and think about it, it's one of the most humbling things I've ever experienced and that golf has allowed me to be a part of," McDonald said. "I'm truly blessed and truly honored to get to be part of a Team USA in an event like the Curtis Cup."
McDonald is the first MSU player to represent her country in an international golf competition while still enrolled at the university.
"Ally McDonald has been the perfect person to lead this golf program from the No. 1 player spot to heights they've never reached, and I'm so happy that she got the opportunity I felt she absolutely deserved to be on this Curtis Cup team," MSU coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said.
The Curtis Cup, which will be at St. Louis (Mo.) Country Club, is similar to the Ryder Cup for professional men's golf. McDonald was one of eight players selected to represent Team USA, including Emma Talley, of Alabama, and Ashlan Ramsey, of Clemson. Ramsey and McDonald helped the U.S. claim gold at the Spirit International Amateur Championships in November 2013.
"We are very proud of these eight women who have been selected to represent the United States at the Curtis Cup Match," said Daniel B. Burton, USGA vice president and chairman of the International Team Selection Committee. "While their playing records are exemplary, they also personify the ideals of sportsmanship, competitiveness and affability that are among the defining characteristics of this competition. We trust they will represent their country in fine fashion come June."
Six-time USGA champion and two-time USA Curtis Cup Team member Ellen Port will captain the U.S. team.
"I am so proud of these players and excited for what is ahead for this team," said Port, a St. Louis native. "Representing your country in the Curtis Cup Match is one of the highest honors a female amateur player can receive, and I know these women are more than up to the task. We are all looking forward to June and the opportunities that are ahead of us."
The Curtis Cup Match will feature six foursomes, sometimes referred to as alternate-shot matches, six four-ball matches, and eight singles matches. Among notable past USA Curtis Cup Team members are U.S. Women's Open champions JoAnne Gunderson Carner, Paula Creamer, Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr, Patty Sheehan, and Hollis Stacy, as well as past and present LPGA standouts such as Beth Daniel, Jessica Korda, Stacy Lewis, Nancy Lopez, Dottie Pepper, Lexi Thompson, and Michelle Wie.
While McDonald is focused on trying to lead MSU to another NCAA Regional selection and back-to-back qualifications for the NCAA Championships, she admitted what her coaches suspected all along: The Curtis Cup drama was on her mind.
"It's been a thought in the back of my mind, and I can say that now, but now it's something every single day I think about in excitement and looking forward to representing my country," McDonald said. "It was a long process, but I did my best to push this back in my mind."
McDonald, who is the ninth-best amateur player in the world, found out about her selection while she and her team were about to tee off at the Donnie Thompson Invitational in Honolulu. Three days later, MSU won the event by 21 shots.
"I remember Ginger is one of the first people I saw in the hotel hallway when the USGA called me to let me know I was on the team," McDonald said. "We both just started crying right then."
McDonald and MSU will tee off today in Athens, Ga., for the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic hosted by Georgia. This week's tournament will be the final tuneup event before the Southeastern Conference Championship at Greystone Country Club in Birmingham, Ala.
"The fact she and a couple other players have been through this grind of a season before, the team is in the right mind-set to really do some incredible things," Brown-Lemm said. "We want to finish what we started and the momentum is clearly going in our favor."
In 2011, McDonald, a Fulton native, became the first female to win the boys Mississippi state championship title before she arrived at MSU. Last year, she earned first-team All-America honors from the National Golf Coaches Association, becoming the first MSU player to do so since 1995. In her sophomore season, she posted a school-record 10-under-par 206 to win the NCAA Central Regional, her second-career win. She carried that momentum on by qualifying for the 64-player match play round of the U.S. Women's Amateur and winning her first-round match.
After accomplishing more than any MSU women's player in her first two years on campus, McDonald could have turned professional. However, in a sport where 16- and 17-year-olds turn pro, McDonald has a different perspective.
"College golf is something that can't be replaced when you get on tour," McDonald said. "You see a lot of girls go to LPGA and skip college, but I think they really miss out on the competitive spirit of being on a team. I've never once considered turning professional and to me, it would've seemed selfish."
By not turning pro early, McDonald, 21, will be the oldest player on the Curtis Cup roster.
There's also more she knows she can accomplished individually and for MSU. She'll be in a group of favorites to contend for an NCAA championship, something no MSU golfer has accomplished. With a talented group that includes Jessica Peng, of China, the Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 36, also have dreams about a Southeastern Conference and a NCAA title. Peng has been named SEC Freshman of the Week and has nine rounds of par or better this season. Her 72.90 stroke average as a freshman is nearly two strokes better than McDonald's freshman season of 2011-12.
"Jessica, Ji Eun Baik and Blaise Carabello have come forward to raise their games to the competition a lot quicker than any of the veterans on this team expected," McDonald said. "They were good players before they came here, but they're peaking at the right time. We definitely should make it to the national championship again."
Brown-Lemm's dream and hopes of her nationally ranked freshman class inspiring McDonald to stay has helped the junior thrive.
"Jessica has been nipping at Ally's heels all season long, and there's something to be said for having somebody right there when you turn around ready to compete for your spot," Brown-Lemm said. "In years past, it's been a 10-shot difference between Ally and her teammates."
McDonald likely will get an opportunity to play on the LPGA Tour. If that happens, she jokes she might never have to use her physical therapy major. However, McDonald's experience playing for Brown-Lemm has turned her on the idea of coaching when her competitive golf career ends.
"I actually committed to Christi Sanders as the coach, but I knew Ginger was coming and it's been a pleasure to learn from her," McDonald said.
It's comments like that from McDonald that make Brown-Lemm proud. Brown-Lemm and assistant coach Leigh Phillips already have the week of the Curtis Cup blocked off so they can travel to St. Louis to support McDonald. Brown-Lemm will do so even though McDonald likely will have a head cover with colors of MSU's biggest rival, Ole Miss. As a member of Team USA, McDonald hopes MSU fans will be able to stand seeing her in red, white and blue for one weekend of the year.
Brown-Lemm wants McDonald to wear MSU colors in St. Louis.
"Maybe more white than anything else," Brown-Lemm said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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