BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Ally McDonald controls her emotions. It’s a skill that does a lot for her considerable golf game.
She speaks in measured tones. She takes time to contemplate her words. If things begin to go awry on the golf course, her mouth tightens, her eyes focus sternly ahead, and her stride quickens.
But the emotion stays inside.
Until a day ago. At the scorer’s table.
“The struggle is REAL, y’all,” McDonald groaned aloud, making the five words sound like 10 in the full-throated Mississippi drawl she usually keeps so carefully restrained.
A struggle for McDonald, the defending Women’s North & South Amateur champion and third-ranked amateur in the world, is a great day for most players. That emotional release from the Mississippi State All-American came after a second straight 1-over-par 72, which put her in a comfortable position for Thursday’s final round of stroke play to advance with the top 16 seeds into match play, which will decide the 112th champion of the historic event on Friday and Saturday.
“I know everybody’s gunning for me. I have to play my best.” – Ally McDonald
A one-birdie, one-bogey even par 71 on Thursday left her with the sixth seed after stroke play at Pinehurst No. 8. To McDonald, it was another ho-hum round with plenty of gutsy up-and-downs but too few quality birdie chances. It was more of the same.
Enough for now.
But not for long.
“I’m still not where I need to be,” McDonald said after Stanford’s Casey Danielson wrapped up medalist honors on Thursday. “I’m struggling to find it right now. I’ve got to play better if I’m going to beat everybody.”
McDonald has enjoyed a brilliant season since capturing the North & South as a No. 5 seed a year ago. She played on the victorious 2014 Curtis Cup team, qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open on Pinehurst No. 2 and recently finished fourth in the NCAA Championship.
But it’s different at Pinehurst. McDonald is trying to become the first back-to-back winner since Beth Bauer in 1998-99, and everybody knows it.
“I know everybody’s gunning for me,” she said. “I have to play my best.”
After a 3-under 68 rocketed her into a share of the lead after the second round Wednesday, Danielson continued her steady play to finish as the medalist. After trading the lead back and forth with Stanford teammate Lauren Kim, Danielson took the top spot for good when she got up and down to save par on 16 while Kim bogeyed.
Danielson played her last eight holes in 1 under, and finished with a 70 for a 3-under-par 210 to beat UCLA’s Alison Lee by one shot.
“(Playing for medalist) was definitely in the back of my mind,” Danielson said. “I just wanted to have a good day and get ready for match play. But winning is always in the back of your mind. It was hard not to think about it.”
Alabama’s Janie Jackson, who has the most birdies in the field with 13 in three rounds, fired a 2-under 68 to finish in a tie for third with Arkansas’ Gaby Lopez, who had a 71 to finish at 1 under for the tournament. Lopez is one of three Mexico natives to reach the Round of 16.
Playing her fifth North & South event, North Carolina native Lori Beth Adams advanced to match play as the No. 8, setting up a potential marquee matchup in the quarterfinals with the top-seeded Danielson.
The Round of 16 and quarterfinals will be played on Friday while the championship will be decided with the semifinals and finals on Saturday.
Two years after the men’s North and South Amateur Championship began in 1900, the women’s championship was born and now celebrates its 111th year. It has become one of the most sought after women’s amateur titles and routinely displays the talents of the top amateurs in the game.
North & South champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey, Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
112TH WOMEN’S NORTH & SOUTH AMATEUR
PINEHURST NO. 8
ROUND OF 16
No. 1 Casey Danielson vs. No. 16 Gabriella Wahl 7:30 a.m.
No. 8 Lori Beth Adams vs. No. 9 Lauren Stephenson 7:38 a.m.
No. 4 Janie Jackson vs. No. 13 Ana Menendez 7:46 a.m.
No. 5 Lauren Kim vs. No. 12 Michelle Piyapattra 7:54 a.m.
No. 2 Alison Lee vs. No. 15 Ashley Holder 8:02 a.m.
No. 7 Aliea Clark vs. No. 10 Maria Torres 8:10 a.m.
No. 3 Gaby Lopez vs. No. 14 Jillian Hollis 8:18 a.m.
No. 6 All McDonald vs. No. 11 Regina Plasencia 8:26 a.m.