A return to Pinehurst, a year in the making

Jun. 19, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

When Ally McDonald won her first berth into a U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Carolina Trace Country Club three weeks ago, she knew a summer only a select few collegiate golfers ever get to experience was ahead.

“I guess I’ll have a very full summer, but I’m definitely blessed and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said.

McDonald earned her spot at Pinehurst No. 2 this week needing the regulation 36 holes, plus one, in the sectional qualifier. Her birdie putt on No. 10 on Trace’s Lake Course gave her the last of four direct spots available in the 84-player field.

It added her first U.S. Open to being on the U.S. Curtis Cup team.

So between success in Sanford and returning to the Sandhills for the main event, McDonald helped the U.S. win back the Curtis Cup, the women’s amateur version of the Ryder Cup.

The Great Britain/Ireland team prevailed 10.5-9.5 two years ago in Scotland.

McDonald, an All-American and rising senior at Mississippi State University, and a native of Fulton, Miss., contributed three points in four matches in a 13-7 American triumph June 6-8 at Saint Louis Country Club in St. Louis.

“It’s been amazing,” McDonald said in a USGA report from the Curtis Cup. “It was a blessing to have been chosen, and I just wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and make memories and play the best golf that I could, and I think this weekend, I played pretty well.”

McDonald and Annie Park teamed up for a 4 and 3 win in Friday’s four-ball session. With teammate Emma Talley in Friday afternoon foursomes, McDonald and Talley halved a point.

On Saturday, McDonald and Mariah Stackhouse got a half point in a foursomes match.

The U.S. team entered Sunday’s eight singles matches needing a single point to win the cup. The clinching point was already in when McDonald defeated Annabel Dimmock 4 and 3 in the second match out for the day.

“I’m just really proud of my girls,” said U.S. captain Ellen Port, from St. Louis. “As a captain, my goal was to keep them fresh and set them up for success. Not wear them out, not let them get tired of playing the course, because they are here so early, and all the late nights.”

So part one of McDonald’s great summer break was both fun and victorious. The U.S. Open trip was booked in May, but the planning for it goes back about a year - most specifically to McDonald winning the 111th North and South Women’s Amateur Championship at Pinehurst No. 2 last summer.

“I found out a little before the North and South that the Open would be there,” she said a few minutes after surviving the 37th hole at Carolina Trace.

“So it’s something that’s been in the back of my mind, and I’ve been working really hard for for awhile now.”

McDonald defeated Yueer Feng 3 and 2 in the final match of the North and South on Pinehurst No. 2 as all four match-play rounds were on No. 2.

While not played at the length or speed, especially green speed, of what No. 2 offers this week, McDonald has more experience than most and a prestigious victory as well.

“To be able to come to a site I’m familiar with and with added confidence to say I’ve won on the golf course, and then to be able to play against the best of the best in the world here would be thrilling,” she said last summer at Pinehurst.

“I could definitely play, not necessarily more cautious, but I could play more strategic with the lead,” McDonald said. “Pars are great out here, and I was really focused on trying to hit the middle of the green just to stay away from trouble.”

She earned her right to take on the best in the world in her first U.S. Open; so let the summer continue.