The mood in practice was light but tensions will soon ratchet up (USGA photo)
SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Early week at the Curtis Cup is about relationships – both international and internal. Entering the first two days of foursomes and four-balls – formats that twenty-something amateurs don’t often experience outside this event – team captains need to know whose games mesh well to earn the most points.
Related: 2016: GB&I wins back the Curtis Cup
It’s insider knowledge that Great Britain & Ireland captain Elaine Farquharson-Black didn’t want to let slip any earlier than she had to.
“My philosophy is that people play their best golf when they're relaxed so we spent a lot of time together getting to know each other, and I'll put pairings together that I think are going to deliver a point,” the visiting captain said Thursday at Quaker Ridge Golf Club. Farquharson-Black joked that it was a non-answer to a pointed question, but it’s a theory that makes sense.
Even Ellen Port
, the seven-time USGA winner who captained the 2014 U.S. Curtis Cup team in a 13-7
rout of GB&I, acknowledges that player personality means everything in this format.
“Play with the game that you have – they all can do it – and enjoy it,” Port said by way of advice. “Stay rested and be confident.”
Port is among the group of former players and captains flooding the grounds this week, telling stories, cheering and even playing a little golf. But the goodwill gestures in this 40-year event, known for forging friendships between the two teams, go far beyond that.
For the players, it took place in New York City, which is only 30 miles from Quaker Ridge. The U.S. team hosted the GB&I women for a tour of the New York Stock Exchange and for dinner at One World Trade Center.
Flags will be raised on the Quaker Ridge grounds Thursday night on the eve of the championship, and for Curtis Cup veteran Andrea Lee
, that’s when it gets real.
“We're all just kind of itching to get out there,” Lee said. “We've been here for a few days now … but the nerves will definitely kick in tonight when the flags are raised.”
Three of GB&I’s eight team members play college golf in the U.S. (India Clyburn
, North Carolina State; Alice Hewson
, Clemson; Olivia Mehaffey
, Arizona State), but Farquharson-Black has also created ample preparation opportunities for her squad. The captain brought her own golf clubs to Quaker Ridge last July for a first look, then brought prospective squad members back in November to play.
Any New Yorker who felt sorry for the GB&I squad navigating sub-zero temperatures that week should think again.
“It was minus one,” Farquharson said. “We thought it was quite pleasant.”
GB&I players have been in New York since last week, practicing at nearby Fenway Golf Club. Like Quaker Ridge, it’s an A.W. Tillinghast design. Knowing the greens would be slick at Quaker Ridge, Farquharson-Black wanted her players to focus on how to play shots around the greens. She called in the help of Steven Orr, a short-game coach who works with the R&A, for touch shots from the rough and above the hole.
The Americans, meanwhile, have been trickling in from a stretch of golf that is exhausting even to look at. Half of the U.S. team played the U.S. Women’s Open last week, and two made the cut (Kristen Gillman
, T-27, and Lucy Li
, T-55). In the weeks leading up to that, every player but Li – at 15, the youngest American member of a Curtis Cup squad since Lexi Thompson
– did the grueling college-golf postseason dance. Gillman and Alabama teammate Laruen Stephenson
made it all the way to the final match at the NCAA Women’s Championship. That’s seven rounds of competitive golf in six days.
In addition to that grind, Lee is still finishing finals at Stanford. She’ll have three waiting for her the week after the matches, including one for a renewable energy class that’s a nasty mix of math and physics.
“Hopefully I’ll pass that one,” she said.
The numbers in this competition make the U.S. appear, at first glance, to have the upper hand. All eight are ranked inside the top 22 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Ranking, however, means little in match play, as Mehaffey, the GB&I veteran, was quick to point out.
“If you get fired up and you really thrive off match play, I don't really feel like ranking plays a part,” she said.
In terms of match-play experience, GB&I traditionally has the edge out of sheer familiarity with the format.
U.S. captain Virginia Derby-Grimes has appeared in these matches three times as a player – in 1998, 2000 and 2006. The U.S. won every time, which makes her one of only 10 women on either side to go undefeated while playing in at least four foursomes matches.
Derby-Grimes’ take is that success comes down to compatibility, especially in the foursomes component (more commonly known as alternate shot).
“It's a puzzle, and sometimes it's amazing, especially with this group, how that part has come together.”
40th Curtis Cup Matches, Quaker Ridge GC, Scarsdale, NY
Fri Jun 8:
Morning Four-Ball Session
Sat Jun 9:
Morning Four-Ball Session
Sun Jun 10: