In barely one year, Ally McDonald has finished fourth in the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships, set multiple school records at Mississippi State, twice led her team to the NCAA Championships, represented the USA in the Curtis Cup, competed in the U.S. Women’s Open, played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur and vaulted up the rankings to become one of the Top 10 amateurs in the world.
And somewhere in all that, she’s found time for classes, homework and exams, too.
In a seemingly-unending cycle, she hasn’t really had a chance to reflect on everything that’s happened, though she likely prefers it that way.
“I can’t let the past affect my future,” McDonald said. “While I think it’s great what I have done, I can’t dwell on that. I still have a lot more that I want to do.”
This time next year, McDonald will have dropped the ‘amateur’ tag in front of her events and rankings and will be a professional golfer. Most student-athletes go pro in something other than sports, as the NCAA likes to say, but McDonald is one of the select few who doesn’t fit into that ‘most’ category.
Of course, she could have already rid herself of the amateur status by not coming to school. She’s plenty talented and has had enough success at the collegiate level, but she didn’t want to miss her senior year at MSU.
“Growing up, my parents always pushed me to get a solid education and pursue good grades,” she said. “I hope the pro career works out, but my education is very important and I needed something in case it doesn’t work out.”
Beyond the schooling, she’s excited about one more year with her Bulldogs and her coach Ginger Brown-Lemm.
“Our program is going to be great,” she said. “I hope we have another National Championship experience, and if we play like we can, I think we will.”
Instead of going with something more established, McDonald took a chance on MSU and Brown-Lemm, believing in both and the vision her future coach had.
“She’s turned this program around,” McDonald said. “I knew coming in to Mississippi State what she wanted to do with the program and I knew she could.”
In just four years, MSU has gone from 127th in the country to 19th, from perennial pushover to finishing sixth in the NCAA Championships.
They have chiseled 66 strokes off the team’s 54-hole average, set records for Top 10 finishes, won weekly honors, broke years-established records and vaulted to the nation’s elite in the country’s toughest conference.
“They’re so excited about the process,” McDonald said of her coaches, “and I think that’s a big part of seeing a program succeed. You have to have coaches who are very, very excited about seeing their program grow and seeing their players grow.”
Part of the success has come from the somewhat unorthodox style of the coaching staff.
To sum up McDonald: they like to have fun.
“I mean, we’re all pretty crazy,” Mcdonald said with a laugh. “The word that coach always uses is camaraderie. It’s amazing and we’re just a great, tight-knit team. The dynamic of our team – I think other teams are jealous of the way we are at tournaments. Our coaches are really laid back, but they’re serious when they need to be.
“Some of the bigger programs, I think, could learn from what we do.”
Though, calling anyone bigger may not be possible much longer. As impressive as the last four years have been, it seems things are only building larger now that MSU has announced a partnership with Old Waverly Golf Club, one of the nation’s premiere facilities in nearby West Point, Mississippi.
Led by State alum George Bryan and family, Old Waverly has partnered with MSU on a $2.2 million investment to create the best home facility in college golf, including a state-of-the-art clubhouse, an indoor putting system, a 2,400 square-foot indoor hitting bay and full team practice areas, including a putting green in the shape of the state of Mississippi. Designed by the renowned Gil Hanse, Old Waverly will also be adding an additional course adjacent to Mississippi State University Golf Center, in development now.
Things are certainly trending upward for MSU, and McDonald has been one of the catalysts behind the program’s success.
It’s been a bit strange for a girl from small-town Mississippi who for most of her young life never realized the talent and potential and she had. She always loved golf, but it wasn’t until she started competing around the country that she discovered she might actually be pretty good at it. In the handful of years since, she’s accomplished quite a lot.
“It was all just a dream,” McDonald said, “and now my dreams are coming true.”