Family goes beyond just mom and dad. McDonald, who will be a rookie in 2016, is also surrounded by her golf family, a tight circle she has kept around for over a decade. It was the superintendent at her home course of Old Waverly in Fulton, Miss. that spotted raw talent and encouraged McDonald to go see swing coach VJ Trolio – who she is still with almost 12 years later. Shortly after starting with Trolio, she met her short game coach, Tim Yelerton, who also works with PGA TOUR professionals Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown.
Then, there is her younger brother, Andrew, who is now on scholarship playing at Itawamba Community College in her home town.
“My family has always been really important to me growing up in a really small town,” said McDonald, who was born in Tupelo and then moved to Fulton, population 3,882 as of the 2000 census, when she was four. “They have always been supportive and taught me all the values about how to handle myself.”
Fulton, located near the Alabama-Mississippi border, is just an hour and a half northeast of Starkville, home to Mississippi State. The family had season tickets to the football games from the time McDonald was young and even though the golf program wasn’t a powerhouse, it felt like family – that word again.
After a strong amateur career capped off by becoming the first female to ever win the boys’ Mississippi state Championship, McDonald was eager to help turn around a program that was ranked outside the top 100.
The accolades quickly started to pile up. As a sophomore, she garnered NGCA First Team All-American honors, the first Lady Bulldog to do that since 1995. She was a First-Team All-American as a junior and was invited to represent the United States on the Curtis Cup team. She won twice as a senior and again earned All-American honors.
Following her graduation from Mississippi State in May of 2015, she remained close to the program as a volunteer assistant coach, a position she still holds.
“I don’t have any big roles, I just help out when I am in town,” said McDonald. “I want to continue to be a part of building a program I have loved for so long.”
Just one month after graduation, McDonald won the Michigan Open Championship, her first event as a professional. It was a quick introduction to professional golf last summer. She got into the U.S. Women’s Open as an alternate, then drove straight from Pennsylvania to Ohio and Monday Qualified for the Marathon Classic, then earned a sponsor invitation into the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic and finally got an invitation into the Epson Tour’s Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout and finished solo second.
“It was a little more spread out then it will be this year, but I learned to travel a little bit,” said McDonald. “I played in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst and that was my first time being around it all and I was very starstruck so this summer helped me get acclimated with the big names. Just seeing them and knowing that I’m going to be playing with them is a lot to get used to.”
She better get used to. McDonald coasted through Stage I and II of LPGA Qualifying Tournament and then finished T22 at Final Stage to earn LPGA Tour status for 2016 in category 17. She says she’ll try to play on the LPGA when she can, but will also play as many Epson Tour events as the schedule allows.
“Right now, the plan is to play both, but with my status I am on the fence with a lot of the LPGA events,” explained McDonald. “I feel like it is going to be very difficult to wait out LPGA events to see if I get in. I’m going to for sure play in as many Epson Tour events as I can.”
Regardless of Tour, the goal is the same.
“I want to get full status on the LPGA for 2017 whether that is top 10 on the Epson Tour or top 80 on the money list for the LPGA.”
McDonald said that she has relied on her consistency and golf IQ for a long time. Like most will say, it will be her putting that will go a long way in determining her success.
The 23-year-old, who grew up wanting to play like Annika Sorenstam and who loves watching the unthinkable creativity of Phil Mickelson and the full swing of Adam Scott, is now ready to carve her own path from small town Fulton to the big time of professional golf.