VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Ally McDonald didn’t hear the tournament official.
After pulling her drive left of her target on the 438-yard 16th hole on Pinehurst No. 2, McDonald marched off the tee, head down, eyes fierce and narrowed. An official asked if she wanted some water. After all, the heat index had soared above 100 degrees.
McDonald never broke stride and her countenance never shifted.
“I started pulling shots left,” McDonald said later of struggling a bit with her swing in the final stages of the championship match of the 111th North & South Women’s Amateur. “I was tired and got lazy, and I’m not supposed to do that.”
One thing should be mentioned: McDonald’s ball was comfortably in the fairway.
The Mississippi State All-American was at times brilliant on Saturday as she topped junior star Yueer “Cindy” Feng to win the North & South Women’s Amateur 3 & 2, emerging as the final one standing over an elite field of amateur golf’s best.
“This means a lot,” McDonald said. “It means so much to win such a prestigious tournament and to add my name to the list of the greats who have won here.
“And to be able to pull of shots I needed to pull off to win and beat such incredible players, that’s such a satisfying feeling.”
McDonald, of course, only added to the strength of the field. An All-American as a sophomore, McDonald was 3rd at the SEC Championship, won the NCAA Central Regional and finished 10th in the NCAA Championship. She contended for three rounds for a national title, only to shoot 81 on the last day to finish tied for 10th behind NCAA Champion Annie Park.
But Park had no answer for McDonald in Pinehurst, as the Fulton, Miss., native rallied to beat Park in the North & South quarterfinals to avenge the NCAA disappointment and set up Saturday’s sterling performance.
Mississippi State All-American Ally McDonald wins the 111th North & South Women's Amateur at Pinehurst.Mississippi State All-American Ally McDonald wins the 111th North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst.McDonald, who beat Columbia’s Michelle Piyapattra 2 &1 in the semifinals Saturday morning to earn a trip to the championship match, never trailed against Feng, who fought a balky putter throughout the round. McDonald led 2 up after two holes as Feng 3-putted both, and while Feng was able to close to 1 down twice, she never threatened McDonald the rest of the way.
“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.”
McDonald hit the shot of the day on the 178-yard par-3 6th, firing within 3 feet for an easy birdie to go 2 up. Feng then found trouble off the tee at the dogleg 7th, and McDonald was able to go 3 up after a careful 2-putt par.
But McDonald may have won the match on the 440-yard par-4 8th. After hitting the first seven greens in regulation, McDonald missed long and left of the 8th green, leaving herself with a 25-yard pitch on the short side of the pin. With Feng staring at an easy up and down from the front of the green, McDonald pitched to 12 feet past the hole, the drained the putt for the match’s first halve, securing McDonald’s 3-up lead as the pair went to the 9th tee.
“I just wanted to give myself an opportunity to make par,” McDonald said. “I hit about as good a shot as I could have and then was able to roll the putt in.”
The pair halved the next five holes, but only because Feng could not take advantage of a tiring McDonald, who bogeyed both the 12th and 13th holes. The lead never shifted, though, because Feng suffered her third and fourth 3-putts of the final round.
Feng was not available for comment following the championship.
Still, the 17-year-old phenom didn’t go away. Feng, who made the cut at the 2013 U.S. Open and qualified for her first Open at 13, drained two lengthy par putts on 14 and 15 to keep the match going, keeping McDonald within reach, 2 up, as they approached 16.
That’s where McDonald pulled her tee shot – to the left side of the fairway. (McDonald missed just one fairway the entire match.) Feng sailed her approach to the back apart of the green, leaving herself 60 feet for birdie. McDonald nestled a shot 25 feet past the pin, and after her birdie putt slid by, Feng 3-putted for a fifth time, this time missing from 10 feet to give McDonald the victory.
“This is definitely one of the top tournaments I’ve ever won,” McDonald said. “It’s amazing to have won at Pinehurst.”
McDonald said she plans to defend her championship in 2014, but has larger aspirations – qualifying for the U.S. Open on No. 2 in 2014.
“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.
For now, though, McDonald is content to join the likes of the game’s greats who have also won at Pinehurst.
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.