As Featured on PA Prep Live
By Niel Geoghegan
If there was ever a candidate to become a young golf prodigy, Mary Grace Dunigan sure fits the bill.
The daughter of respected PGA Teaching Professional John Dunigan, she certainly had the pedigree. But Mary Grace actually didn’t take to the game as an adolescent. She had lots of interests growing up in Kennett Square, like softball and music – she played the alto saxophone.
“Talking with her parents, they laugh as they tell the stories of Mary in a stroller while her dad was giving lessons at the driving range,” said Joe Sudimak, the girls’ golf coach at Unionville. “But not many know that she is really a latecomer to the game.
“Her parents were waiting, and hoping, for that switch to go off because it is her dad’s life. But they didn’t want to force it upon her.”
While in eighth grade, Unionville’s girls’ golf program made its debut, and it is no coincidence that that is around the time that Dunigan caught the bug. Less than five years later, she is the 2022 Daily Local News Golfer of the Year.
“High school golf was a huge motivation for me,” she said. “It was something to work towards in the summer before my freshman season. I was passionate about being a key player in high school.
“And once I started playing competitively, I realized I was a lot better than I thought. It pushed me even further.”
Dunigan reached a crossroad soon thereafter. She was a budding pitcher in softball throughout middle school, plus she had aspirations of playing in the Unionville High School Marching Band and was involved in the school choir program. But very quickly, the game of golf took hold.
“There was a point where I had to choose between golf and these other interests, and I came to the conclusion that golf was just more important to me, and more fun,” Dunigan explained. “I am really glad I chose what I did.”
For her senior season this fall, Dunigan captured the Ches-Mont Individual crown and then persevered through some adversity to finish fifth at districts and third at states. And she has already signed on to play division I golf collegiately next season at William & Mary.
“She hasn’t hit the ceiling yet with golf,” Sudimak said. “As good as she is, when she gets to William & Mary and the next level of play, I think we are going to see her go to another level of play.”
John Dunigan, the director of instruction at Applebrook Golf Club in East Goshen, has been the only golf instructor Mary Grace has ever had. Her mom, Fran, has also been instrumental in getting her back and forth to tournaments.
“My dad’s led me to where I am, for sure,” she said. “He is a big deal in my life.
“But my parents never pushed me to play golf, they just want me to do what I feel passionate about.”
Dunigan headed into the 2022 postseason, however, with some putting issues, which was surprising since she is usually so good on the greens. And despite a quadruple-bogey on the front nine, Dunigan roared back to win the Ches-Mont title by a single stroke. But she was not pleased.
“I had higher expectations for myself and I was disappointed,” Dunigan said.
“She just settled down and played great on the back nine to win the tournament,” Sudimak added. “If not for the quad, she would have run away with it.”
A week later at the District 1 Tournament Dunigan showed up at Ravens Claw Golf Club with a bad case of bronchitis. Her first round 76 may have knocked her out of title contention, but she bounced back for a personal-best final round 5-under-par 67.
“I had a terrible cough and sore throat,” she recalled. “I carried a big bottle of hot tea with me and it seemed to help. I just found the whole thing kind of funny – my voice sounded like a man. So I didn’t let it frustrate me.
“The first day wasn’t too good, but somehow I pulled it together the next day. After the round I went to Urgent Care on the way home.”
Similarly, a week after that at the PIAA Tournament, Dunigan was still under the weather, and got off to a rocky start with a first round 76. But the next day she regrouped to fire a 69.
“It was very similar to districts,” Dunigan acknowledged. “I think being able to comeback is an important part of my game.
“I was frustrated after the first round because it took me out of contention. But there is always a chance, so I never stopped pushing for it.”
Sudimak said: “It was the last round of her high school career, and it was very similar to what happened at districts. She came back and worked her way to an outright third place finish.”