Ally McDonald tees off on hole #1 in the first round of the 2015 U.S. Women's Open at Lancaster Country Club Thursday. (Photo/Blaine Shahan)

Spot in US Open field a thrill for last entrant Ally McDonald

Posted: July 9, 2015 11:40 pm

Two months after graduating from Mississippi State University, Ally McDonald, a spry 22, didn’t have many plans coming into this week. She knew, however, she was an alternate to play in the U.S. Women’s Open should someone else drop out. So McDonald booked a midweek flight to Philadelphia just in case she got a last-minute call to come to Lancaster Country Club.

“I feel like I’d be more disappointed if I stayed in Mississippi and got the call and couldn’t make it in time,” McDonald said Thursday after stepping off the course at LCC, finishing her first-round play after what had been a crazy 48 hours.

McDonald received a phone call around 8 p.m. Tuesday night notifying her she would be the last entrant into the U.S. Open. A spot had opened up when Yoonkyung Heo pulled out of the tournament with a knee injury.

Roughly seven hours later, around 3 Wednesday morning, McDonald packed into the car with her mom, dad and younger brother, and they drove roughly 90 minutes from their Mississippi home to Memphis (Tenn.) International Airport, where Ally McDonald grabbed her golf bag and hopped on a 5:45 a.m. flight bound for Philadelphia, with a stop in Washington, D.C.

The rest of the family continued a 14-hour drive north to Lancaster.

McDonald made it to Lancaster by Wednesday evening, a USGA official picking her up in Philadelphia and immediately bringing her to LCC. Exhausted after a long day of travel, McDonald found a local caddie and managed to squeeze in all 18 holes before the sun went down Wednesday night.

Still, it was nothing like the three relaxing days of practice — with opportunities to hit multiple drives and putts at every angle of each hole — all of her competitors had leading up to the opening of play Thursday.

“I played all 18 (Wednesday). I mainly just wanted to see how it played out here. I didn’t take a shot on every single hole. I just kind of wanted to get a strategy together and see what it’s like,” she said.

Competing in her second career U.S. Open — she played in last year’s but missed the cut — McDonald was an early surprise in Thursday’s first-round action. With her brother, Andrew, serving as her caddie, and mom and dad watching from outside the ropes, McDonald began the day at Hole No. 10 and shot 2-under-par through the back nine.

“I would say some of my emotions got to me when I got to 18 and noticed I was 2-under and near the lead,” McDonald said.

A small-town girl with a southern twang to her voice, McDonald’s well ran dry from there, as she finished her round at 4-over-par 74.

“I was tired. My muscles stopped firing,” McDonald said of her performance on the last nine holes. “On No. 7, I decided, ‘You need to regroup. This is getting a little out of hand.’ I think it came from being so tired. Overall I’m pretty pleased. I think got the ball around very well.”

McDonald is scheduled to tee off from Hole No. 1 at 2:09 p.m. today. She’ll need to put together a full performance if she hopes to make the cut.

“I think I can put together a good round out here,” she said. “Like I said, the emotions of knowing where I was (through the first nine holes Thursday) and hitting the wall and being a little tired caught up to me. I definitely want to make the cut.”

Additional McDonald fun facts

 This role of the underdog coming out of nowhere pretty much sums up McDonald’s career. She bucked the system in high school when her state didn’t have a girls’ division in golf and she had to play with the boys, and she went on to become the first female to win the boys’ state title.

 McDonald turned away offers from Ole Miss and Arkansas and stayed close to home by playing for lowly Mississippi State, which had annually finished near the bottom in golf competition before McDonald arrived. Since, the Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA championships for the first time in school history in 2013 and 2014.

 McDonald became an All-America selection as a sophomore in 2013, the first female Mississippi State golfer to earn the honors since 1995. She finished her career as a three-time All-American.

 McDonald won the Michigan Women’s Open Championship last month, which made her an alternate for the U.S. Open.

 The only major championship McDonald attended as a fan came in 1999, when the U.S. Women’s Open was played at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Mississippi. Years later, McDonald would meet her eventual swing coach, V.J. Trolio, who is the lead instructor of Old Waverly Golf Club.

 The highlight of McDonald’s golf career came in 2009 when she met her idol, Annika Sorenstam, at a dinner at Trump National Club in New Jersey: “We accidentally took her table. Me and my mom were like, ‘Oh, gosh. We’ll get up.’ And she’s like ‘No, no. Have a seat.’ So we just sat down and ate. It was really special. I just remember my mom embarrassing me pretty good because she’s like, ‘Well, Ally just loves you.’”