Curtis Cup Day 1 Foursomes: Alabama Stars Spark U.S.
The sign tells the story for Kristen Gillman (L) and Lauren Stephenson (USGA photo)
The sign tells the story for Kristen Gillman (L) and Lauren Stephenson (USGA photo)

SCARSDALE, N.Y. (June 8, 2018) – Virginia Derby Grimes was decked out totally in red, white and blue Friday at Quaker Ridge Golf Club, but for the Auburn pin on her lapel. “War eagle” just feels natural to Derby Grimes – Auburn’s home tournament is even named after the longtime coach.

The Curtis Cup requires that college ties take a backseat to national pride. It wasn’t by accident that the two University of Alabama players on the American team, Kristen Gillman and Lauren Stephenson, were slotted into the anchor match in afternoon foursomes. Derby Grimes gave them a “Roll Tide” and all but forgot about them. They needed little guidance in dusting Paula Grant and Lily May Humphreys, 4 and 2. It helped the Americans to a 4-2 lead after Day 1.

Gillman and Stephenson, Crimson Tide All-Americans with similar games, were 5 under on their combined ball. Even GB&I captain Elaine Farquharson-Black tipped her hat.

“That’s great scoring for foursomes play,” she said.

You could see this pairing coming months ago, and the Alabama girls didn’t disappoint. They’ve been playing alternate shot together since the first Curtis Cup team practice in December. Stephenson led off, getting the Alabama side off the tee on the odd holes. It left Gillman with more of the crucial approach shots, which is her strength.

Stephenson didn’t even touch her putter for the first seven holes. Gillman was a magician around Quaker Ridge greens that gave fits to players from both sides. The pins were easier in the afternoon session, but greens crews still rolled the putting surfaces over the lunch hour to keep them running slick.

“We have the same game, it’s kind of weird actually,” Stephenson said. “We kind of knew we were going to go out this afternoon just because we are really good at alternate shot.”

Gillman and Stephenson trailed only once in their match – after a GB&I birdie at No. 8 – and were rarely more than inches apart between shots or when walking down the fairway. It’s a relationship born from college golf. Neither can put a finger on when they first met, exactly. They only know vaguely that it was during high school, likely on the American Junior Golf Association circuit.

“We never played together – we weren’t even that good of friends, we just knew of each other,” Gillman said after some head-scratching from both sides.

Two weeks ago, Stephenson and Gillman stood together on the sidelines during the final match of the NCAA Championship. Stephenson had lost her match while Gillman won hers, but it all came down to the last putt from senior teammate Lakareber Abe. Alabama ultimately lost to Arizona, 3-2, but there was intense team bonding that came from that. There was also a lesson.

“Any time you can play match play, whether it’s a win or a loss, you’re learning,” Stephenson said. “Me personally I learned a lot. … It’s kind of sucky to lose, and I kind of came way with more fire.”

Stephenson thinks she’s better equipped to handle the pressure of a high-profile match after that experience. She was much less nervous at Quaker Ridge.

Derby Grimes has relied partly on college ties to be successful this week, too. Kim Evans, her Auburn successor, make the trip to Quaker Ridge to cheer on her friend. She has offered advice when Derby Grimes needed it. Her overall message for the competition has been to just go out and do it.

“She’s kind of been my rock a little bit,” Derby Grimes said.

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ABOUT THE Curtis Cup

Officially named "The Women's International Cup," the first Curtis Cup wasn't officially held until 1932. The biennial competition features the best female players from the United States of America pitted against a similar squad from Great Britain and Ireland. While it was hoped that many nations would eventually join the Match, the Curtis Cup has remained a two-sided competition.

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