Ally McDonald never questioned her ability. But there were times, she said, that she questioned whether or not she could win on the LPGA. Feelings of relief poured out when it was over as she hugged her parents, enjoyed a champagne celebration and told Golf Channel viewers how she had to settle down her heart rate after Danielle Kang charged late at the LPGA Drive On Championship.
McDonald made it a 28th birthday she'll never forget.
"It just feels like a long time coming," she said with the glass trophy by her side.
Kang, down by two heading into the reachable par-5 18th, found the rough off the tee, just above a bunker. She debated going for the green in two, twice taking her fairway metal out of the bag. Kang told her caddie that she'd need to hit the perfect shot to avoid the water and ultimately decided to lay up.
LPGA DRIVE ON: Scores
Kang then came within a whisker of holing her third.
"My wedges are really good," said Kang, "so I said I can't guarantee on-the-green shot, even if I'm long enough to try and chip in. Let's just lay it up to a number I like. Laid up to a number I like, and I tried to hole-out."
McDonald's closing par was enough to edge Kang by one shot. McDonald posted a second consecutive 69 to finish at 16 under over the Great Waters Course.
After 16 straight pars, rookie Bianca Pagdanganan birdied the last two holes to finish a career-best third.
Ally McDonald after winning the 2020 LPGA Drive On Championship - Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia. (Mike Comer/Getty Images)
Many fans first got to know McDonald when she subbed in for an injured Stacy Lewis at last year's Solheim Cup. But Mississippi State fans know her well. McDonald's impact on the program has been so great she has a tournament named after her - the Ally - which was held earlier this week at Old Waverly.
McDonald is now the first MSU player to win on the LPGA, and her heart hasn't moved far from the program either. On May 30 she married Charlie Ewing, the men's assistant coach at Mississippi State, in West Point, Mississippi, in a pared down gathering of 50 people. Her former coach, Ginger Brown-Lemm, introduced the couple.
McDonald said Ewing once joked that he would never date a golfer, and here he is now married to an LPGA winner. Since their relationship started, McDonald said, he has poured positivity into her life and boosted her self-belief even higher.
"This week just reinforcing that, telling me that what I have is good enough," said McDonald, "that I don't have to be more."
She also credited the advice of Angela Stanford for helping her to keep the day in perspective.
"She told me that God already knows the outcome," said McDonald, "so just go play."
McDonald led by one stroke over Pagdanganan and two over Kang going into the final round. McDonald built up her lead to four with six to play and looked like she might cruise to the finish as fans lined the shores of Lake Oconee in a parade of boats.
But Kang cut that margin in half with a birdie on the 13th while McDonald made bogey.
"I'm not gonna lie," said McDonald, "it shook me up pretty bad. I really had to gather myself and get my heart rate under control."
After another birdie by Kang on the 14th, McDonald's lead had dwindled to one.
"She's got the Dottie Pepper stare going right now," said Golf Channel reporter Jim Gallagher of Kang's quick walk to the 15th tee.
But McDonald, a woman who once wanted to quarterback the middle-school football team, didn't buckle. She nearly flew her approach into the 16th in the hole - setting off a burst of boat horns - and led by three with two to play.
It proved enough.
Where will the trophy go in their new home?
"We'll have to make a really good spot for it near the deer," said McDonald of her husband's prized trophy.
"It's not going all the way back in the man cave, that's for sure."