Her season halted, Michigan State's Ally Geer-Park makes 'bittersweet' transition to pro golf
In a perfect world, Ally Geer-Park would be on a golf course, somewhere.
As one of the top golfers in Michigan State history, the senior would have just capped her second straight appearance at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur while turning her focus to the final event of the season for the Spartans heading into the Big Ten tournament.
Instead, the golfer with the best career average in program history is at her parents’ home in Brighton, helping them prepare it for an upcoming sale while trying to fit in a few holes at the club she grew up playing.
“I've just been here with family trying to kind of catch up and sort things out with the craziness, the unsure time and dysfunction going on,” Geer-Park said. “So I've just been here, which has been nice to spend time with my family and hang out and get re-situated.”
That’s what the ongoing battle against COVID-19 has done to the sports world, and it’s no different for Geer-Park. Instead of playing at Augusta National or defending her individual championship at last month’s Briar’s Creek Invitational in South Carolina, she is doing yard work and painting while going on walks with her sister and her dog.
And think. There’s been plenty of time for that.
There’s been a lot on Geer-Park’s mind. Processing the fact her senior season was wiped out in matter of hours was tough.
“It was definitely hard to wrap your head around the words, ‘Your season is over,’” Geer-Park said.
The Spartans were having another successful season, one that began back in the fall. They were ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation, depending on which service was doing the rankings, and were ready to get going with a spring schedule that almost certainly would have ended with a fifth straight trip to the NCAA Championships.
A day before getting set to head to South Carolina, though, the sports world started to crumble.
“I was actually on the golf course practicing because we were getting ready to leave (the next day),” Geer-Park said. “Then we got the call that our first tournament had been canceled at Briar's Creek and we were all bummed and said, ‘Wow, this is real. Things are canceling.’ Then, about two hours later, we found out the whole season was over.
“It was definitely hard. In the span of a couple hours we went from thinking everything would be canceled but we'd be able to go into postseason play. Then, all of a sudden, we had a team meeting over the phone and everything was done.”
Just like that, Geer-Park was forced to accept the fact she had likely played her last event as a Spartan.
She headed home and word started to come out the NCAA was considering granting an extra year of eligibility for spring student-athletes. Now everyone wanted to know — would Geer-Park return to Michigan State or begin career as a professional?
In that moment, her mind was clouded with emotion.
“It definitely was a whirlwind couple days,” Geer-Park said. “Shortly after (canceling the season) they came out and said there might be a possibility that seniors could go back to school or get another year of eligibility. So, the first week-and-a-half was just kind of a whole whirlwind of emotions. I told my husband, ‘I feel like I just have whiplash.’
“So I kind of just took about a week away from everything. I went home and just tried to process and kind of stayed away from my phone as much as I could and just told people I just need time to think and figure out what my next move is from here. So many people were wondering what I was going to be doing and I didn’t even know what I was doing with my life. I was not in the headspace to be able to give answers on what my next year is gonna look like.”
As the days passed, Geer-Park was busy thinking about that future. She talked often with her coach, Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, about the next move.
It wasn’t an easy one, but Geer-Park ultimately decided it was time to take the next step and pursue a professional career.
“It is definitely bittersweet,” she said. “It’s definitely one of those things I thought long and hard about it … and I decided that it would be best for me to just turn pro now and not go back to school another year.
“I’m very excited that I'm moving into the next phase of life, whenever that happens, and playing whatever tournaments I can play this summer. But I'm definitely preparing for going to Q (qualifying) school this fall hopefully, at the end of August is the first stage so, God willing, they allow us to play in the first stage. That will be my first step as a pro, to get status on Tour and then go from there.”
Geer-Park has proven to this point she has the game to take the next step. Before coming to Michigan State she was an outstanding junior player, winning the 2015 and 2016 Michigan State Amateur Championships, becoming the youngest and just the third player in the last 23 years to win the event in consecutive years.
Things kept rolling at Michigan State as she was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2016-17, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors three straight seasons and was an honorable mention All-American as a sophomore. She has the best career average in Michigan State history at 72.81 and owns three of the top seven single-season averages in program history, including her 2019-20 average of 72.39, which ranks fourth all-time.
She capped her MSU career with nine top-five finishes, including two individual titles (2019 Briar's Creek Invitational; 2018 Mary Fossum Invitational). Geer-Park recorded 17 rounds in the 60s over her four seasons, including a 66 at this year's Ruth's Chris Tar Heel Invitational, which helped the Spartans to the team title. She also has the lowest 54-hole tournament total in program history at 203, which she set on her way to winning medalist honors at the 2019 Briar's Creek Invitational.
Two weeks ago, Geer-Park was select to play in the Arnold Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event for college players from the United States and Europe.
She’s had experience at the professional level, too. She’s played three times in the Meijer Classic, an LPGA event at Blythefield Country Club near Grand Rapids, and she’s appeared in a handful of events on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit.
“I've been very fortunate enough to kind of dip my toes in the water out on Tour and to get some experience there,” she said.
Now, as she begins her quest as a pro, she’ll lean on the relationships she cultivated at Michigan State when it comes to landing donations and sponsors.
How quickly that quest begins is all up in the air. Professional golf, like most sports, is on hold. There’s hopes things will begin again in June and at that point, Geer-Park can take a shot at qualifying for any event in preparation for Q School. She’ll do that close to home as she and her husband, Nick, settle in southeast Michigan.
She’ll also do it knowing she’ll have the support of the Spartans.
“I really would not be the person that I am today without the coaches and without the experience at MSU,” Geer-Park said. “I waited pretty much my whole life to be a Spartan. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to Michigan State. So it's just crazy to look back and realize that my time is up there. But everything that I've gone through, the good and the bad, has just prepared me so much and made me into the person that I am today. I wouldn't trade any of the experiences that I had there for anything.”