Sometimes a comfortable environment makes all the difference.
“I feel like Georgia has a lot of the similarities with Mississippi,” said Ally McDonald, who recently moved into a new house with her new husband, Charlie Ewing, in Starkville, Miss., a par-5 distance from her alma mater, Mississippi State. “Just the grass and the bermuda greens - it kind of feels comfortable out here.”
McDonald shot a bogey-free 66 on Thursday, one shot behind leaders Jennifer Song and Danielle Kang.
“Of course, you can never be too comfortable out here because (you have) stellar play (from the field) every week,” McDonald said. “But just having my parents out this week and being five and a half hours from home is a lot of fun.”
McDonald also had a lot of fun Wednesday afternoon at the Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds, a 20-station sporting clay course she visited with Amy Olson and Katherine Kirk. “Amy was the best shot,” McDonald said. “That’s no surprise. She hunts pheasants (in North Dakota with her husband, Grant). My husband is a bow hunter, so I’ve been shooting crossbows.”
“We had a great time,” Olson said. “Ally started getting a little bit bruised (on the right shoulder) from it so she had to stop halfway through (the course) so she could play today, which obviously worked given how well she played.”
McDonald fired a .20 gauge about six times before calling it an afternoon. “They had a .12 gauge on the cart,” she said. “Kat took two off and I was like, ‘You’re going to shoot that?’ She said, ‘I have no idea. I’m just grabbing guns.’”
“It was fun,” Olson said. “We haven’t done that before.”
It might have been the first time they’ve taken shotguns into the woods together, but Olson, Kirk and McDonald play a lot of golf with one another. They did so again earlier this week.
“She’s such a great player,” Olson said of McDonald. “It doesn’t surprise me at all to see her near the top. She hits a lot of greens and is a really good putter so when it all comes together…”
“Overall I've been playing really solid,” McDonald said. “I feel like I drive the ball well. I rely heavily on my ball striking. And then today I was just able to get some putts to fall, which is good to see. It's what I’ve been working the most on, just trying to see the ball go in the hole. I feel like I've been hitting really good putts, but they just haven't been going in.
“It helps when you hit the ball close. This was one of my best ball-striking days of the year. It should be that the closer you get to the hole the easier golf is.”
This isn’t a one-off week for McDonald. She has been playing well for two years now, going back to the 2019 ANA Inspiration where she led early in the week and contended deep into the weekend. A late spot on the USA Solheim Cup team at Gleneagles (she replaced an injured Stacy Lewis) put a capstone on a terrific year.
Then, like everyone else, McDonald put up the clubs due to COVID-19. She got married during the break and moved 20 miles from West Point to Starkville. Somehow, through the disruptions and the pandemic she was able to maintain her steady improvement, inching ever closer to her first LPGA Tour win.
“Once you get married and put some roots down, you feel more settled,” Olson said of her friend. “Whether or not that translates to good golf, it just puts you in a good place in life. And when you’re at a good place in life, good things can happen on the golf course.”
Maybe. Or maybe it’s the work she’s put in with her coach, V.J. Trolio.
“I have been working really hard to get consistent where I feel like I'm looking in the right places for approach shots that are probably 90% of the time away from pins just to yield myself a lot of birdie opportunities,” she said. “Trusting the work that I've put in with my swing has given me a lot of confidence, and I’m getting on the golf course and trusting that I’ve got a good outlook and strategy. And I can trust my swing.”
Hard work and confidence are important to McDonald’s success. But they aren’t the secret. That comes from another source.
“The main thing for me is my faith,” she said. “Christ is obviously the No.1 thing I look to during difficult times. We should look it to Him for good and bad. But, specifically during uncertain times I think it's important to trust in the things that you know. And for me, it's my faith.
“Seeing chaos in the world, it’s important to have something I know I can trust.”
That trust has nothing to do with golf. And everything to do with success.