Mickey Wright, who left us earlier this year and is on the short list of the best to play the game, once said: “Every star needs a great chorus line.” Right now, the LPGA Tour has a chorus line full of stars, many shining at the Drive On Championship-Reynolds Lake Oconee.
There is currently no obvious answer to the question: “Who’s the best player in the women’s game?” – and that’s a very good thing. Instead, there are a parcel of players vying for that title. How much fun is that?
And it seems as if each week someone new steps from the chorus line into the spotlight, raises her hand and says with her clubs: “Consider me a contender for greatness.”
This time it was Ally McDonald.
McDonald, 28, playing her fourth full LPGA season, earned her star turn by holding off Danielle Kang, the hottest player on Tour over the last year, to snag her first LPGA victory at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
A gritty, final-round 69 put McDonald at 16-under-par 272, one stroke better than Kang, her victory serenaded by honking horns from boats of Reynolds homeowners, a fitting tribute for a player who had to right the ship late in the final round.
“Just the resiliency that I have,” McDonald said when asked how she got things back on track after a four-stroke lead dwindled to one.
“I've never doubted my ability, but I've definitely questioned whether I would be able to win out here,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “It's really hard to win out here.”
Often, breakthroughs are a matter of belief catching up to ability – trusting how good you are. And that’s what the Drive On spirit is all about – celebrating the greatness in all of us and learning how to let it out.
McDonald started the back nine with three consecutive birdies to take a four-stroke lead. But a two-stroke swing on No. 13 – birdie by Kang; bogey by McDonald – and another birdie by Kang on No. 14 cut the margin to one.
McDonald restored order with a birdie on No. 16 and when Kang’s wedge into the 18th green grazed the cup for what would have been an eagle, Ally was able to two-putt for the victory.
“I'm not going to lie, it shook me up pretty bad,” McDonald said about Kang’s charge. “I had to gather myself and get my heart rate under control. I just told myself to calm down and do what I've been doing every single round, and that is just trying to execute my game plan, control what I can.”
Kang was a ferocious test for McDonald’s will. In the last 12 months, Kang has won three times, been second twice, third twice and fifth once. With five career wins, including a major at the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she is stalking the top spot in the Rolex Rankings.
“I'm very proud of how I played despite not having my full game,” said Kang, who was battling back spasms. “But Ally played wonderfully and it's been a really great week.”
Bianca Pagdanganan, perhaps the longest hitter the Tour has ever seen, was playing only the sixth tournament of her rookie season and added a third-place finish to the T-9 she had at the KPMG Women’s PGA.
“Today's round was a little bit boring,” she said. “I had 16 pars going into my last two holes, and pars are good, but they can be frustrating if you know you gave yourself a couple birdie chances.”
Pagdanganan closed with two birdies for a 70 to be at 14-under-par 274, two strokes behind McDonald.
“Overall, I'm really happy with how I played and I love where my game is going,” she said. “So hopefully I get to keep it up and continue having this mindset throughout the rest of the year.”
The 22-year-old from The Philippines, personifies the new burst of power in the women’s game. She leads in driving distance at more than 286 yards and averaged 299 yards off the tee at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
Maria Fassi and Anne van Dam also average more than 280 yards as eight players are at more than 270 yards. When McDonald turned pro in 2015, Joanna Klatten led in driving distance at 274 yards and was the only one averaging more than 270.
This has been a year of breakouts on the LPGA Tour. McDonald and Mel Reid got their first wins; Mirim Lee and Sei Young Kim got their first majors; and Sophia Popov got both.
Mickey Wright would be proud. In this most trying of seasons, there is no one star carrying women’s golf but rather a crowded constellation glittering with greatness. Ally McDonald is one more shining example.