CINCINNATI, OHIO | New events can be tricky. In most cases, there’s no tradition on which to build enthusiasm. Mention to everyone in Florida that you’re going to “The Bay Hill” and they know what you mean, just as everyone in London understands that “I’m heading to Wentworth” means a trip to the BMW PGA. You don’t get that in first-, second-, or even third-year events. It takes a while to build familiarity, which is the mother of tradition.
But it helps when a new event goes to a classic club, one of those grand old venues where you take two steps off a green to reach the next tee; a club like Kenwood Country Club just north of downtown Cincinnati, where towering sycamores stand like sentries on the edge of lush fairways and every hole has a view of either the 1930 Tudor-style clubhouse or the downtown skyline. Even wet – and the place was one step removed from a bog for most of the week – Kenwood delivered some of the best visuals and drama on the LPGA Tour this year.
A few ticks past 9:30 a.m. Sunday, as the final group gathered their scorecards in the starter’s tent, a cool, gray mist laid heavier than expectations. Ally Ewing, who hadn’t had a top-10 all year, teed off with a one-shot lead over Maria Fassi and a two-shot edge over Xiyu Lin, whose own mother calls her Janet. Both Fassi and Lin were looking for their first career victories.
The next 4½ hours were a doozy, with Lin shooting 7-under-par 65 and still losing by a shot to Ewing, who shot 66 and had five birdies in a row on the back nine. With apologies to Wentworth and Europe’s biggest non-major event, the Kroger Queen City Championship was the best professional golf event of the week.
Ewing is what the old pros call a shot-maker. You can eyeball it. She passes every site test. But even if you’ve never seen her hit a shot, the stats confirm it.
Ewing’s ball-striking did it. Her swing brings a tear to the eye, not because of her power, but because of her old-school precision, shots that harken back to players such as Jerry Pate and David Graham, back when saying someone could “work the ball” was the greatest compliment you could give. During her warmup before the final round, Ewing hit four 8-irons straighter than most people can point. Then she lined up 10 yards right and hit a punch draw back to the same target, followed by a high, cover fade, every shot landing on the spot the size of a newspaper. A dozen 6-iron shots looked the same. Even the hybrids and drivers she hit looked different from those of her colleagues.
Ewing is what the old pros call a shot-maker. You can eyeball it. She passes every site test. But even if you’ve never seen her hit a shot, the stats confirm it. Ewing came into Cincinnati ranked No.1 on the LPGA Tour in greens hit in regulation, with an average of 77.78 percent. That’s 14 greens per round, all year. For perspective, Player of the Year Scottie Scheffler leads that stat on the PGA Tour at 72.29 percent.
Ewing hit 60 of 72 in Cincinnati, including 16 on Saturday and 17 on Sunday. It was a clinic.
But her non-ball-striking approach to the game also harkens back to another time, starting with the absence of an entourage. Other players show up at tournaments with managers or parents or coaches or some combination of the three. A few LPGA Tour pros have people to hold umbrellas over their heads, rain or shine. And just like on the PGA Tour, coaches glad-hand and stand like schoolmasters behind their pupils on the range, celebrities in their own right, with club and clothing deals and a slew of media in their contact lists.
Ewing’s team is her caddie, Dan Chapman. Sometimes her husband, Charlie, shows up. He is the women’s golf coach at Mississippi State University and came to Cincinnati on Sunday, surprising Ally on the 18th green after the win. But he’s not out often, especially when school’s in session. Her parents, Jamie and Angie, show up occasionally, too, but nowhere near as much as other LPGA parents.
As for Ewing’s coach, V.J. Trolio, who has been with her since she was 13 years old, most people on tour wouldn’t know him if he patted them on the back.
“We get all of our work done at home,” Ewing said. “There was a time in my junior golf and collegiate golf career when I was too analytical. So, for me, once I leave Old Waverly (Golf Club in West Point, Mississippi), it's no more technical thinking.
“It's getting out on the golf course, preparing how to play it, and executing shots,” she said. “(Trolio) has maybe been out to a couple events in my entire career. It's just kind of how I like to prep for a golf tournament.
“I feel like, technically, I'm very sound and can trust what I know that my golf swing does. So, when I get to a golf course, it's just figuring out how to play the course. That's how I've gone about my career.”
It also took her a while to break through, just as it did for other master ball-strikers like Larry Nelson, who, to be fair, had a war in Vietnam to fight before crafting a World Golf Hall of Fame career. A better comparison is Betsy King, who didn’t win for the first eight years of her career and then won 34 times, including six majors.
Ewing won her first event the same week she turned 28. Now, a month shy of 30, she is a three-time winner, a two-time Solheim Cup player, and the kind of gritty champion worth following.
She is also the second Mississippian to win at Kenwood Country Club, following in the footsteps of Mary Mills, who won the 1963 U.S. Women’s Open in the Queen City.
Another old-school winner at a classic venue. This one was fun to watch.
Top: Ally Ewing swings with an old-school precision.