Ally McDonald celebrates birthday with first LGPA win

Ally McDonald celebrates her first LPGA victory at the LPGA Drive On Championship - Reynolds Lake Oconee.
Ally McDonald celebrates her first LPGA victory at the LPGA Drive On Championship - Reynolds Lake Oconee.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Greensboro — Ally McDonald may never have another birthday celebration better than the one she enjoyed on Sunday.

The Mississippi native won for the first time on the LPGA Tour, claiming the LPGA Drive On Championship — Reynolds Lake Oconee. Her winning tap-in for par on the 18th hole at Great Waters set off a Harpo Marx-like round of horn-honking from the 50-plus watercraft that had assembled to watch in the cove.

And that was just the beginning.

After getting doused by numerous bottles of water from her co-workers as she walked to the scoring area, McDonald was escorted up the hill to find a birthday cake. Her pals Katherine Kirk and Amy Olson lit the candles and led the crowd in a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” It was her second cake; she celebrated with her mom and dad, Jamie and Angie with a slice of another cake on Saturday night.

After LPGA win, golfer Ally McDonald (left), gets a celebratory birthday day cake from Amy Olson (center) and Katherine Kirk.  (Stan Awtrey/For the AJC)
After LPGA win, golfer Ally McDonald (left), gets a celebratory birthday day cake from Amy Olson (center) and Katherine Kirk. (Stan Awtrey/For the AJC)

Credit: For the AJC

Credit: For the AJC

Then she was rushed back to the green for the awards ceremony and trophy presentation. McDonald said a few words to the crowd and turned to thank the Lake Oconee Navy, which drew even more honks and hoots.

“I would put (this birthday) pretty high up there,” McDonald said. “OK ... it’s the best birthday present ever.”

McDonald closed with a 3-under 69 to finish at 16-under for the week, good enough for a one-stroke victory over veteran Danielle Kang, who shot 68, and two shots better than long-hitting rookie Bianca Pagdanganan. Mina Harigae shot 67 and tied for fourth at 13 under with Carlota Ciganda, who birdied three of the final four holes. for a 69. The low round of the day belonged to Amy Olson at 65.

“Relieved I think I can say is the No. 1 word,” McDonald said. “It just feels like a long time coming. I just kind of stayed patient, knowing that the work that I put in every day is hopefully going to yield a win.”

McDonald began the final round with a one-shot advantage of Kang, a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour this season. It was the first time McDonald, a former Mississippi State All-America, had taken a lead into the final day, but she showed no nerves and leaned on some advice from fellow pro Angel Stanford.

“She told me that God already knows the outcome, so just go play,” McDonald said. “Just knowing it’s out of my control, I was just going to go execute my game plan and know the outcome was going to be the outcome. Just kind of trust in my process and my faith.”

McDonald added to her lead with a birdie on the fourth hole — “It was a good settler,” she said — and opened the back nine with three consecutive birdies to open a four-shot lead on Kang.

That’s when it got interesting. On the 13th hole, McDonald missed a four-footer for par and Kang made a birdie to reduce the lead back to two shots. From that point it was a match-play scenario, with Kang pulling with one shot via a birdie at No. 14, only to give it back with a bogey at 15.

“I had to pump the brakes and not get ahead myself,” McDonald said.

McDonald birdied the 16th, but gave it back with a three-putt bogey at 17, and carried a two-stroke lead into the final hole. McDonald hit her approach on the par-5 18th hole to within six feet, but Kang nearly spun her approach in for an eagle. Two putts later McDonald was a winner.

With a win on her resume, McDonald’s biggest concern is where to put that large crystal trophy in her new house in Starkville.

“We’ll have to make a really good spot for it near the deer (shot and mounted by her husband, Charlie Ewing, a professional golfer who plays on the Korn Ferry Tour),” she said. “We’ll have to find a really good place. It’s not going all the way back in the man cave, that’s for sure”

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