Behind McDonald, Mississippi State moves forward
Mississippi State has a bench. Head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm precedes that statement with an important qualifier.
The Bulldogs shattered their 18-hole scoring record Oct. 2 with a 13-under 275 on their home course, Old Waverly, in West Point, Miss. At 20-under 844, Mississippi State won their own invitational by 21 shots, also breaking school 36- and 54-hole scoring records.
Brown-Lemm’s eyes, during that final round at home, were on the course instead of her phone. Rather than refresh live scoring, Brown-Lemm experienced the record breaking with her team. It became a question of how much Mississippi State would win by, not whether or not they would win.
“It was liberating to be in the moment,” she said. That included watching junior Ally McDonald edge freshman Jessica Peng for medalist honors, and watching another freshman, Ji Eun Baik, battle back from a rough start to tie for fourth.
Mississippi State has succeeded in building off a season of firsts. They qualified for the NCAA Championship for the first time in history last spring. The Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational title is the team’s first since 2004. In her fourth season at the helm, Brown-Lemm can note the progress she’s seen in scoring, and can do it quite exactly. She has watched average team scores come down with each year, from 315 in 2009-10, the year before she arrived, to 300 for the 2012-13 season.
At the beginning of each season, Brown-Lemm sits down with her team to discuss goals for the upcoming year. Among this year’s goals is a still lower team average, but Brown-Lemm won’t give that exact number.
“I wanted them to own it,” she said.
Brown-Lemm only last year began allowing her players to practice with iPods and headphones – at times, anyway – after putting tremendous thought into that decision. She has her players focused on building an arsenal of shots around the greens. Mississippi State’s recently completed practice facility helps in that endeavor. Brown-Lemm’s words are delivered in a thick southern accent, and it’s hard to imagine this woman in anything but a good mood. She uses the words “team” and “family” interchangeably.
Brown-Lemm is a goal-oriented coach, but also a faith-oriented one. She and team leader Ally McDonald, among Golfweek’s preseason top-10 players and one to watch in the player-of-the-year race, seem kindred spirits.
“She’s a balanced human being,” Brown Lemm said of McDonald, praising her ability to make time for golf, school and life and keep all in perspective.
McDonald is equally goal-oriented, a hard worker and a fierce competitor. McDonald shot 9-under 207 to win the Old Waverly Bulldog Classic by one shot. It was her third career title. McDonald, however, was more focused on the big picture, particularly what the rest of the team might take from a dominant performance at home.
“I think this home tournament kind of opened their eyes and let them know they can play,” she said of the underclassmen.
Behind Brown-Lemm and McDonald, the Bulldogs keep moving forward.