VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Two months ago, with the NCAA Championship on the line, Ally McDonald had a chance to chase down Southern Cal star Annie Park.
She shot 81.
Yet now, in match play on famed Pinehurst No. 2 at the 111th North & South Women’s Amateur, a potential second chance was looming.
In the round of 16 Friday morning, McDonald was 3 down through nine holes, and a potential quarterfinal meeting with Park seemed very far away.
“I was just giving strokes away,” McDonald said. “I was basically just handing it over.”
But that’s just not the Mississippi State All-American’s style. No way could she allow herself to go out like this.
“If I need to win a hole making a birdie, or making a really big up and down, I’m going to find a way to do that, whether it’s skill, whether it’s just willpower, I’m going to try my best to pull off the shot I need to pull off.”
She’s not kidding.
And so McDonald rallied against Cyna Rodriguez in her morning round, winning five of the last seven holes to set up the supermatch with Park, who cruised into the quarterfinals with a 3 & 2 win over Monifa Sealy.
But unlike the final round of the NCAA Championship, which Park won by six shots as McDonald tumbled from second to 10th, something was different about this pairing. Only a day before, McDonald was in the final group with Park to conclude stroke play at Pinehurst No. 4. It was an eye-opening experience for the Mississippi State junior.
“A big thing for me was getting to play with her before in stroke play, and, obviously a golfer is a human,” McDonald said. “We’re all going to make mistakes. We’re all going to hit a few errant shots. The big thing is taking advantage of those shots when they are errant, and I was able to take advantage of that today.”
Did she ever. Again McDonald rallied after falling behind 2 holes to Park through nine, sticking her approach to 4 feet on the par-4 13th to square the match before making birdie at 16 after Park’s ball ricocheted off a sprinkler head. (Just a terrible break,” McDonald said later.) That was enough to win the most anticipated match of the day 1 up to advance to Saturday’s semifinals.
“Satisfying? No,” McDonald said of beating Park head-to-head. “But it’s a confidence boost. My competitive nature is always that I’m not going to be satisfied unless I win. Anything less than that is a loss for me.”
McDonald will now face No. 9 seed Michelle Piyapattra, who also made two huge comebacks Friday. The Columbia senior, who reached the Round of 16 last year, was 3 down in her morning match before recovering to beat Cathleen Santoso 2 up. She then stunned top-seeded Mariah Stackhouse 1 up in the final, coming back from two holes down with eight to play.
“I was behind almost the whole day, but you just have to be patient on this course,” Piyapattra said. “A lot of things can happen. No. 2 is one of those courses where anything can happen to anybody.”
UC-Davis graduate Demi Runas, the three-time Big West Player of the Year, had to qualify for the No. 15 seed in a playoff following stroke play Thursday, and made the spot count, slipping past No. 2 seed Hayley Bettencourt 1 up in the Round of 16 before sweeping past Rinko Mitsunaga 3 & 2 in the afternoon.
“It’s all kind of buzzing around right now, from the playoff yesterday to this morning, it’s all kind of been a blur,” Runas said. “It’s been a lot of fun.
“It would mean so much to win at Pinehurst, especially because this could be my last event as an amateur. There’s so much history here, and to be able to hopefully add to that would mean a lot to me.”
Junior phenom Yueer “Cindy” Feng, who qualified for the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at 13 years old, had one of the easier days on the course in Friday’s play. With close matches all around her, Feng, the No. 11 seed, clipped North & South veteran Katherine Perry 2 & 1 before dispatching the No. 2-ranked amateur and third-seeded Ashlan Ramsey 3 & 2 in the quarterfinals.
“I was fortunate to get a few lucky breaks,” Feng said. “There were a couple of holes where I made bogey and my opponent couldn’t capitalize.
“No. 2 is so much different from No. 4. It’s a big jump, especially when you think about the greens on No. 2.”
Semifinal matches will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday. The 18-hole finals will begin around 1 p.m. Spectators are encouraged to follow play and admission is free.
Two years after the men’s North and South Amateur Championship began in 1900, the women’s championship was born and now celebrates its 111th year. It has become one of the most sought after women’s amateur titles and routinely displays the talents of the top amateurs in the game. Seven of the past 10 North & South champions are members of the LPGA Tour.
North & South champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk, Hollis Stacey, Donna Andrews, Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.