AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND | She was the only American not playing in the Friday morning foursomes session to meander into the amphitheater that is the first tee at 8 a.m., four and half hours before she would hit her first shot. But she wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Given how Ally McDonald made it to Gleneagles – to this moment, wearing star-spangled pants and custom Maui Jim sunglasses, representing the United States, surrounded on three sides by grandstands holding 2,000 raucous fans – she intended to soak it all in like dew on Mississippi moss.
McDonald didn’t make this Solheim Cup team. She didn’t qualify and she wasn’t picked. She was supposed to be home in West Point, Miss., where it was 97 degrees on Friday. She was supposed to be watching the Solheim Cup over coffee and some country ham, maybe heading over to Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday to watch her Mississippi State Bulldogs take on Kansas State.
Instead she set a record, the biggest win in any match played on foreign soil in Solheim Cup history. McDonald and Angel Yin put a Southern-fried whuppin’ on Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall, one of the most successful match-play duos in women’s golf history. The final score of the four-ball contest on Friday afternoon was 7 and 5, equaling an overall all-time Solheim Cup record set by Pat Hurst and Rosie Jones at Muirfield Village in 1998 when McDonald was in kindergarten and Yin had yet to be born.
When she didn’t qualify and U.S. captain Juli Inkster passed her by for Stacy Lewis and Morgan Pressel as captain’s picks, McDonald told her mother, Angie, “It wasn’t my time. God has a different plan. When it’s His time, it’ll be my time.”
“When I had to tell Ally she didn’t make the team, it was the hardest one I had to tell because I felt like she deserved to be on the team,” Inkster said. “And then I asked her right there, I said, ‘I need an alternate. Would you be willing to go?’ She didn’t hesitate and said, ‘Yes.’
“And then when Stacy (Lewis) called me and said she was having a little back issue, I called Ally and there was this wind in the background. I go ‘Are you out hitting balls?’ She goes, ‘Yeah.’ So when I said, ‘We need you, we need you to come here on Sunday,’ she said, ‘I’ll be there.’ ”
Lewis had tweaked her back on the practice range at the LPGA’s last tournament before the Solheim Cup, the Cambia Portland Classic. She hadn’t hit a single shot in the week off between the Portland tournament and her flight to Scotland. Inkster needed McDonald to be ready if destiny called.
That call came late on Monday. Lewis hit one shot in practice and immediately knew that she couldn’t go. McDonald stepped into her slot as the U.S. team’s sixth Solheim Cup rookie.
“Just the way the whole thing shaped up, the way she prepared,” Inkster said. “I mean, the way the whole team just embraced her and the way she embraced her role, she just slid right in.”
And the U.S. team became stronger.
“I really think she is a good fit,” Golf Channel commentator and past Solheim Cup competitor Karen Stupples said before the first matches began. “If you look through Ally’s record, when she played in the Curtis Cup, she played with three different partners. She had a win and two halves with three different people. She wasn’t just a one-person partner. She’s very versatile. Her game kind of goes with just about anybody.”
“Obviously I didn’t want (to be on the team) this way. And hopefully Stacy gets better ASAP. But I’m excited to be part of the team and hopefully I can contribute a lot.” – Ally McDonald
She has a calming presence. Very little seems to rattle her, even when her parents, her brother, Andrew, and her grandmother, Dot, got stuck in a four-hour weather delay in Memphis, missed their flight from Newark to Glasgow, and arrived at Gleneagles at 8:30 Friday morning, just in time to don the U.S. gear and get out to see their daughter bomb her opening tee shot down the first fairway.
“I came in mentally prepared to step in as a player or as a cheerleader,” McDonald said. “Obviously I didn’t want (to be on the team) this way. And hopefully Stacy gets better ASAP. But I’m excited to be part of the team and hopefully I can contribute a lot.
“As far as preparation, I was already practicing and gearing up and getting ready. If I didn’t tee it up this week, I was getting ready for Indianapolis in a few weeks. In that sense, I was ready to go. But more importantly I was excited to be here and be part of the experience even if I didn’t get to play. Certainly we just want Stacy to get better. But I’m going to do all I can for the team.”
In addition to her versatility, her preternatural calmness, and glowing smile, there’s another element that makes McDonald a dynamo, not just on this team but for the future of the LPGA.
“Her drive and determination to be great was what made her different,” said Jim Gallagher Jr., a five-time PGA Tour winner who has known McDonald since she was 8 years old. Gallagher’s wife, Cissye is a 12-time Mississippi Women’s Amateur champion and their daughter, Mary Langdon, played college golf with McDonald at Mississippi State.
“She was never scared,” Gallagher said. “Ever. She wanted to beat your brains in every time. A lot of kids when they get to that age where they’re driving, they lose focus and fade away. But she stayed focused on what she wanted to do. She played basketball in high school, which was good. But no matter what she always wanted to beat everybody. She was tough.
“I’ve seen her grow up as a golfer and grow up as a person. And I’ve been telling people for years to keep an eye on her. Everybody looked at me sideways like, ‘What are you talking about?’ but I knew.”
McDonald couldn’t stop smiling after her opening match, even though she stayed out in the cold Scottish wind until dark watching her teammates, 11 hours after watching them in the early session.
“(The Solheim Cup) probably wasn’t something that I truly aspired to do until I got to college,” she said. “I made the goal of making the Curtis Cup (team), and after I made the Curtis Cup (in 2014), we had like a ‘perspective board’ (at Mississippi State) and I put a Solheim Cup logo up on it (as a goal) to eventually make it.
“That was when I felt like if I kept pushing that I could eventually get here.”
Setting a record in her first outing was never on any board. But with McDonald’s drive, game, and demeanor, a lot more history is likely to come.
Ally McDonald was right on time after being selected as an alternate by U.S. captain Juli Inkster. Photo: Stuart Franklin, Getty Images
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