October 2, 2013 6:43:54 PM
WEST POINT -- Ally McDonald and the Mississippi State women's golf team won what would be considered the closest thing the sport offers to a home game.
The Bulldogs team and junior took home the championship trophies of the second annual Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational at Old Waverly Country Club. MSU broke the school record for a 54-hole team total (20-under-par, 844) by 20 shots. Their final round total of 275 was the lowest single round score in school history.
"People are flat out having to try really hard to even make the traveling five-man team and when that happens the chemistry is great," MSU coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said. "We were ripe for this win when you build a program. You can feel it was time. I told them this was their golf tournament to win."
McDonald, whose family are members of Old Waverly and lists that as her home course during individual amateur tournaments, won the tournament by a stroke over freshman teammate Jessica Peng following posting a 9-under-par 207 and a final round 67 for her first victory of the fall season.
"I knew this was going to be a really good opportunity for me to win but it wasn't going to be handed to me," McDonald said. "I think I'm honestly more excited to be apart of a program right now that just completely dominating a tournament like this. All nine of us played really well and that doesn't happen often."
Brown-Lemm said her former All-American player doesn't see tournaments like other players where they talk about being in contention or where they finish. McDonald sees tournaments in the common sports mentality of wins and losses.
"She really wanted this one bad," Brown-Lemm said. "It pushes her to become a better player, not just in the technically aspect but in the mental control as well."
After starting the tournament one stroke back, McDonald birdied her first three holes to take a commanding lead before posting a double bogey on the fourth hole. The Fulton native managed to play 5-under over the final 10 holes to win her third individual tournament.
"I was hitting it well enough to make birdies and I actually felt like I missed out on so many more opportunities," McDonald said. "I'm playing the best golf of my entire life and I can't pinpoint one thing I'm doing better now but it's just a feeling."
Mississippi State took a 10-stroke lead into the final round and turned a potential 18-hole victory lap into a 19-stroke team victory. The Bulldogs were the only school of the 11-team field to finish under par and MSU had seven rounds of 70 or lower over the three-day event.
"In team golf I've seen a eight-shot swing in one hole so it can go haywire real quickly," Brown-Lemm said. "I really talked to them and addressed them like it was all square. I didn't feel like 10 shots was a lot."
Brown-Lemm, who has stressed the instant impact of her freshman class of recruits in the offseason, got top five finishes from newcomers Jessica Peng and Ji Eun Baik. Peng had a birdie putt on the final hole to force a individual playoff with McDonald. McDonald, who made it to the second round of the United States Women's Amateur Championship, said she was already prepared for a sudden death hole.
"I'm thinking how am I and a assistant coach going to get through a playoff with my All-American player and a freshman that is capable of doing these types of things each and every time she goes out there," Brown-Lemm said. "I mean, how fortunate are we?"
Peng has understandably struggled off the course in her first few months at MSU just learning the English language after arriving from Shenzhen, China but the freshman ranked as high as the 39th best amateur worldwide according to the Polo Jr. Golf Rankings finally didn't allow the transition to affect her play. Before this week's tournament, Peng had a 76.00 scoring average in five rounds but managed three rounds at 70 or under at Old Waverly.
"I've got so many," Brown-Lemm said excitedly of her talented freshman class. "What we saw in our recruits is that ability to not give up and persevere through anything."
After winning its home tournament, Brown-Lemm will have a homecoming of her own when she brings her team to her alma mater, the University of Texas, for the Betsy Rawls Invitational in 10 days.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.