Ally McDonald Ewing during day two of the 2023 AIG Women's Open at Walton Heath, Surrey, on August 11, 2023 (Press Association via AP Images)

They come mostly from small towns, but Mississippi athletes made a huge impact around the globe this past weekend. Let’s take a look:

In women’s golf, Fulton’s Ally McDonald Ewing tied for sixth in the last major tournament of the year, the AIG (British) Women’s Open at Walton Heath Golf Club near London.

Ewing, a 30-year-old former Mississippi State All American, earned $278,545 and moved to nearly $4 million in career professional golf earnings. Her finish at Walton Heath followed a ninth place finish in last week’s Scottish Open and greatly enhanced her chances of being selected to the U.S. Solheim Cup team. She is now the No. 39 ranked women’s golfer in the world.

Rick Cleveland

“You finish in the top 10 in a major, you are playing some great, great golf,” said Jim Gallagher, the former touring pro and Golf Channel announcer, who closely follows the LPGA Tour. “What Ally did at Walton Heath doesn’t surprise me. She’s a great player who is playing some of her best golf right now.”

Ewing seems likely to be a captain’s pick for the Solheim Cup, which matches the best U.S. women’s players against the best from Europe, much like the Ryder Cup for men.

“It would be surprising if she didn’t make it,” Gallagher said. “She’s playing really well, she’s got international experience and she is so well-liked by the other players. Team chemistry is so important in these international matches.”

It would be a third Solheim appearance for Ewing. Stacy Lewis, a 13-time winner on the LPGA Tour, is the U.S. captain for the matches that will take place Sept. 22-24 in Finca Cortesin in Andalusia, Spain.

Austin Riley, from Southaven, blasted two more home runs for the Atlanta Braves in a four-game series at the New York Mets. For the season, Riley is hitting .280 with 28 home runs and 75 runs batted in for the Braves, who have the best record in baseball.

Austin RIley

Riley, who was offered football and baseball scholarships to Mississippi State before he signed a $1.6 million contract with the Braves straight out of Southaven High, ranks fifth in the National League in home runs, fifth in runs scored, and ninth in runs batted in. What’s more, he fields exceptionally well at third base, where he makes plays that remind this observer of Brooks Robinson or Clete Boyer in their prime. 

At 26, Riley has become, without question, one of the best third basemen in the sport.

Swimmer Julia Dennis of Oxford, competing for Team USA in the LEN European U-23 Championships in Ireland, won gold and silver medals in freestyle sprints for the victorious U.S. team. The 19-year-old was a freshman All American at Louisville last spring and already has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2024.

Julia Dennis

She won a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle and a gold in the 4×100 mixed (men and women) relay team.

Dennis is the granddaughter of Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Mike Dennis, the former Ole Miss and NFL football star. But she has more than bloodlines going for her. It takes a lot more than the right gene pool to compete on the world stage.

“You can’t believe how hard Julia works at it,” said Mike Dennis. “I mean, for the last five or six years or so she has worked so hard to achieve what she has. We’re just so proud of her.”

Wilson Furr

Meanwhile, Jackson’s Wilson Furr finished in 20th place at the Korn Ferry Tour’s Pinnacle Bank Championships at Omaha with rounds of 64, 70, 70 and 71. Furr ranks No. 46 on the Korn Ferry points list. The top 30 on the points list will automatically advance to the PGA Tour in 2024. The top 75 retain full Korn Ferry Tour status. Former Ole Miss golfer Jackson Suber of Tampa is 19th on the Korn Ferry list. Both Suber and Furr will play in this week’s Magnit Championship in New Jersey, the last event before the Korn Ferry playoffs begin.

Meanwhile, former Jackson State Tiger Tim O’Neal, a persevering 51-year-old rookie on the PGA Champions Tour, tied for ninth in the Boeing Classic in Snoqualmie, Washington. It was O’Neal’s best finish yet on the senior tour and moved him to 43rd on the tour’s points list.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.