HOUSTON, TEXAS | It’s her last week of the year, the final competitive shots in what has been a breakout season. And as the first round of this 75th U.S. Women’s Open inches closer, Ally Ewing is as confident as anyone in the field.
There’s good reason. The one-two punch she put together at the Drive On Championship at Reynold’s Lake Oconee, which she won, and the Pelican Championship in Tampa, where she finished runner-up to Sei Young Kim, moved Ewing into the top five in Race to CME Globe points and the top-10 on the LPGA Tour money list. It also confirmed that she is one of the hottest players in the game entering golf’s final major.
But there’s more to it than the numbers. Sometimes players just see things differently. Like a batter seeing the stitches on a fastball, Ewing is experiencing the game at a slower speed than everyone else. The pictures are clearer and the lines straighter. The mental windows great players see their shots flying through are smaller when you’re playing the way Ewing is at the moment. Others pick a number and a line. She’s seeing the blades of grass where she wants her shots to land.
During Wednesday’s practice round with her good friend Amy Olson, Sung Hyun Park and recent Epson Tour grad Fatima Fernandez Cano, Ewing threaded a tee shot on the second hole – a butter cut with a driver that wasn’t in her arsenal a couple of years ago. Then she hit a perfect 6-iron from 160 into a zephyr of a breeze. One hop and a tiny release later, the ball disappeared into the hole.
The reaction from her caddie, Dan Chapman, was priceless. “Not today,” Chapman said. He quickly added, “Great shot.”
She almost did it again on No.3. After another fade – a shot that would have brought a tear to the eye of Jimmy Damaret, the late co-founder of Champions who thought a hook should be added to the list of deadly sins – Ewing hit a cut with a 7-iron to a foot under the hole.
Granted, practice rounds are different. Competition blurs the sharpest vision. And major championships take it to another level. Hearts race faster. Hands squeeze tighter. But Ewing seems about as stressed as a summer hammock.
“I was in bed at 7:30 last night,” she said. “I called Charlie (her husband) a little before 9:00 and said, ‘Hey, I’m out. I’m falling asleep.’”
Charlie has been one of the unsung heroes of Ewing’s rise in 2020. For starters, she’s happier in her life than at any time in her career. Charlie was just named the head women’s golf coach at their alma mater, Mississippi State, and last week, she officially changed her name on Tour – although the former Ally McDonald couldn’t resist a joke with her golf bag, which now reads, “Ally Mc Ewing.”
“Charlie studies a lot of PGA Tour statistics and we were talking this week about the correlation between statistics and wins and money lists,” she said. “On the PGA Tour, the longest hitters are at or near the top. But that’s not true out here. I think, and we still have to get statistics to back this up, but we hit approaches with the same clubs closer than the guys. Granted they’re hitting 7-iron from much farther away so there’s more room for shot dispersion. But observation tells me that we hit those clubs closer.
“And there’s really no stat for how close (the men) hit hybrids because they rarely hit them. I can’t think of the last time I saw a PGA Tour player pull out lumber on a par-3. We might do it three times out here this week.”
Whether or not Ewing’s analysis is correct isn’t the point. She’s thinking about these things a lot, chewing on stats with her husband and diving deep into the analytics of the game rather than the mechanics of the golf swing.
The mechanics of her swing are pretty good, though. She currently ranks 7th on Tour in greens hit in regulation and leads the Tour in birdies for the year. Gone is the excess motion in her golf swing that led to inconsistencies. Her head, that used to move up and down more than most would like, is now almost perfectly still. And her speed control on the greens (another weakness in years past) is flawless.
More than anything, you have to love Ewing’s attitude. “Yeah, I really like these courses,” she said. “You can tell this place is owned by a player. The greens are really big. Just hitting the greens isn’t going to be good enough. It’s not your typical U.S. Open setup because the rough is dormant. I think the key is going to be scoring well on Jackrabbit (one of the two courses at Champions that the USGA is using during the first two rounds – Cypress Creek is the other that will be played exclusively once the cut is made). If you post a good number at Jackrabbit, I think you’ll do well.”
Ewing won’t play at the CME Group Tour Championship next week. Her brother is getting married in Mississippi. And she has her priorities in order.
That, too, is a reason to watch her at this U.S. Women’s Open. Confidence, commitment, perspective, peace, and seeing the seams on the fastball: Add them all together and it could be a good week in Texas for Ally Ewing.