ATHENS, Ga. –- Opponents will know Ally McDonald by the curly bun sticking out the back of her Mississippi State ball cap and the sweet southern accent with which she speaks. These things do not point to a killer instinct, but deep down, it’s there.
Teammate Mary Langdon Gallagher, an equally sweet-sounding southerner, can speak to McDonald’s competitive fire. The two Mississippi natives have known each other since they were 12 years old, and were two of the most competitive girl golfers statewide of their time. Gallagher, a junior on the Bulldog roster, calls McDonald, a sophomore, one of her dearest friends.
Gallagher says it’s never “dog eat dog” with McDonald, but if there’s a contest (hot-dog eating, fastest walker, best tan), McDonald wants to win. McDonald, Gallagher explains, has chipped in on her more times than she can count. She vividly remembers playing against McDonald in the semifinals of the 2011 Mississippi Women’s Amateur.
“She beat me like a runaway train,” Gallagher drawls, smiling ear to ear. “We didn’t speak the whole time.”
Gallagher was the defending champion that week, but Gallagher was the eventual winner, and won again last summer. She defeated Mississippi State assistant coach Leigh Phillips to do it.
Gallagher, also McDonald’s roommate this week, was among the Mississippi State cheering section waiting for McDonald off the 18th green on Thursday afternoon. In addition to teammates and coaches, McDonald’s mother, father, brother, one grandfather and two grandmothers are in the crowd this week. Her hometown preacher made the five-and-a-half hour drive from Fulton, Miss., earlier this week. Back home, the congregation at Fulton Freewill Baptist is sending prayers McDonald’s way.
McDonald guesses there are about 5,000 people in her hometown. A good percentage knows what she’s doing in Athens this week.
McDonald shot 2-under 70 at the University of Georgia Golf Course on Thursday, which was nearly good enough to overtake second-round leader Stephanie Meadow of Alabama. McDonald’s round pushed her to 7 under through 54 holes, and Meadow teed off in the afternoon wave with a one-shot advantage.
The most receptive areas on the University of Georgia Golf Course’s large greens are highlighted on McDonald’s pin sheet. Land the ball there, the Mississippi State coaches hammered home, and scoring will come. McDonald says you can’t get “too cute” around these greens.
“For me, it’s (about) not being overly aggressive,” McDonald said.
The size of the deficit was pending Thursday afternoon as McDonald and her teammates began migrating toward the lunch room, but McDonald viewed it all rationally.
“I think when you run into trouble, it’s from putting pressure on yourself,” McDonald said.
Perhaps most notably, McDonald is the player who became the first female in Mississippi to win the Boys State High School Championship. The summer before that, it all clicked for McDonald when she advanced to the semifinals at the U.S. Girls’ Junior. She calls that tournament her “aha” moment.
McDonald’s postseason stat sheet already includes a T-3 at the SEC Championship and a five-shot victory at the NCAA Central Regional. The latter was preceded by a pep-talk from Gallagher, the gist of which can be summed up this way: “Why don’t you just go win the thing?” McDonald is going to try not to think about that on Friday.
“The thought is going to creep in all day, I know it will,” she admitted.
McDonald seems well-prepared to take that in stride.