June 18, 2014 10:49:57 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State women's golf team -- care of Ally McDonald -- has taken the best season in program on the road.
The last stop on the Bulldogs' wonderful 2013-14 season will begin Thursday when McDonald represents the team at the U.S. Women's Open at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club (No. 2 Course) in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Last week, Pinehurst Resort and Country Club played host to the PGA's U.S. Open. This week, the 6,649-yard, par-70 course will challenge some of the LPGA's best golfers like defending champion Inbee Park, who won last year at Sebonack in New York for her third-straight major title. The field also will include Lucy Li, 11, the youngest player in tournament history, top-ranked Stacy Lewis, and other top players like Jessica Korda, Karrie Webb, and Anna Nordqvist.
ESPN2 will provide live coverage from 3-6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. WTVA will offer live coverage from 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Last month, McDonald, who is from Fulton, defeated Australia's Rebecca Artis on the first playoff hole to earn the top amateur finish at the U.S. Open qualifier at Carolina Trace Country Club. McDonald shot 72s on both days of the two-day event. The WGCA All-American is the 11th-rated golfer in the world, and second-ranked in the United States.
Last week, McDonald and MSU women's golf coach Ginger Brown-Lemm talked about the Bulldogs' season, which included a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma. MSU, which was playing in its second-consecutive NCAA tournament, fired a school-best 283 and a 7-over-par 287 to finish 37-over-par 1,157. The finish was the best of any Southeastern Conference team.
McDonald led MSU with a 1-under-par 279, which tied for fourth. That finish served as a warmup for McDonald, who went on to play a key role in the United States' victory against the team from Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup Match at the St. Louis Country Club. The event is one of the top amateur events in the world. McDonald went 2-0-2 to help the U.S. earn a 13-7 victory.
"I am very, very blessed to play in the Curtis Cup and to have qualified for the U.S. Women's Open, but that wasn't my main priority when I came to Mississippi State," McDonald said. "It is so good to see our team excel like we have always wanted."
McDonald said the big crowds that followed her at the Curtis Cup would help prepare her mentally for the size of the galleries that are expected this weekend for the U.S. Women's Open. McDonald's second-straight first-team All-America season helped position her to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. McDonald, who is the second Bulldog to claim multiple first-team honors, and first to do so in back-to-back seasons since Carri Wood (1992-93), had the lowest single-season stroke average (71.48) and most birdies in a season (114) in school history. She had six top-five and 10 top-25 finishes, including the tournament championship in the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational.
The U.S. Women's Open will offer a different challenge. McDonald planned to arrive Monday and hoped to spend as much time around the greens as possible. She wasn't sure how much she would be able to take from watching the PGA's U.S. Open on television to help her game. She said last week that she thought the golf course would play 1,000 yards shorter than it did for the men's event.
Following a tie for 14th (8-over-par 224) at the Southeastern Conference Championship at the Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama, McDonald said she worked on her swing and her short game and "fine-tuned everything. She felt she played well at the NCAA tournament regionals and nationals and hit the ball at the Curtis Cup Match "the best" that she has in a long time. She said she enjoyed playing in pressure-packed environments and having to make five-foot putts for a chance to make the cut at a U.S. Women's Open, or to win a U.S. Open.
Belief helped McDonald make plenty of important shots this season. She will play this week with a similar mentality as she tries to show everyone a player from MSU is capable of winning the U.S. Open, just like the Bulldogs showed they are capable of earning the best finish of any SEC team at the NCAA Championship.
"It may be far-fetched to say that I can win it, but if you don't jump into a tournament and think you can win it, there is no point in playing," said McDonald, who played Pinehurst No. 2 last year after the renovations to the course. "That is what I am going to do. We'll see where I come out.
"There is no doubt in my mind that if I go out and play to the best of my ability I might have a shot. That is what I am going to do."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.