USA makes Day 1 statement at Merion, Leads GB&I 5-1
Rachel Kuehn (left) and Amari Avery. (USGA/Chris Keane)
Rachel Kuehn (left) and Amari Avery. (USGA/Chris Keane)

The USA Team sent a resounding message on Friday, Day 1 of the 42nd Curtis Cup Match at Merion Golf Club. The Americans, seeking a third consecutive victory against Great Britain and Ireland in the biennial team competition, claimed five of the available six points, including a sweep of the afternoon foursomes (alternate-shot) matches, for an early advantage.

With three more four-ball and three foursomes matches scheduled for Saturday, and eight singles matches on Sunday, the USA needs five points retain the Cup. GB&I needs 9½ points to regain the Cup and win for only the second time on foreign soil in a series that dates to 1932.

GB&I can take solace in the fact that it led the USA, 4½-1½, after Day 1 nine months ago at Conwy Golf Club in Wales, only to see the American side roar back for a five-point victory in a competition postponed one year due to COVID-19. That result is not lost on USA captain Sarah Ingram.

“I was hoping for that [strong start]; I'm very happy about it,” said Ingram, who also guided the Americans last year. “We are definitely better positioned today than we were last year at the same time.”

Rachel Heck, of Memphis, Tenn., and Rachel Kuehn, of Asheville, N.C., were both part of that comeback, and the two college All-Americans, along with team rookie Amari Avery, of Riverside, Calif., each went 2-0 on a gorgeous day in suburban Philadelphia.

“I think we can learn from it,” said Kuehn. “Just because you're not winning doesn't mean it's over. Luckily, we’re on the flipside of it this year and leading after the first day, but I think we have got … to stay motivated, we've got to keep the pedal down, because if last year showed us anything it’s that you can come back, and we don't want to give GB&I that chance.”

“Obviously we're disappointed about the afternoon results, but we weren't in this position last year,” said GBI veteran Louise Duncan. “We're not feeling too disheartened and we're looking for a big day tomorrow and hopefully come back and make a good fight for the singles on Sunday.”

Leading 2-1 after the morning four-ball session, the Americans came out on fire after lunch in foursomes. Reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Jensen Castle, of West Columbia, S.C., and Latanna Stone, of Riverview, Fla., who both sat out the morning session, didn’t lose a hole in their 5-and-3 victory over the Scottish tandem of Duncan and Hannah Darling.

Jensen and Stone, standouts at the University of Kentucky and Louisiana State University, respectively, built a 3-up lead after five holes, then played even-par golf over the next 10 holes to close out their opponents.

“Jensen and I really weren’t worried about the lead,” said Stone. “We were just kind of shooting for a goal like 3 under as a team. So we just put that in the back of our mind.”

That victory set the tone for the afternoon.

Rose Zhang, of Irvine, Calif., and Heck, who helped Stanford win the NCAA title three weeks ago, overcame an early 2-hole deficit to beat Florida State teammates Charlotte Heath and Amelia Williamson, both of England, 4 and 2. Zhang, the No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking® and the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, avenged her Friday morning four-ball defeat, her first in six Curtis Cup matches.

"I feel like both Rachel and I were just very consistent and were really good at self-talk,” said Zhang when asked about the comeback. “We’ve played with each other so much that we know each other so well. We really made ourselves more aware of just trying to play the best we can and actually playing for each other. After we had a putt drop, we just kept that momentum going.”

Zhang and Heck took control of the match with three consecutive birdies from No. 7, going from 1 down to 2 up.

Louise Duncan (left) and Charlotte Heath delivered the lone point for GB&I (USGA/Chris Keane)
As far as birthdays go, Kuehn enjoyed her 21st on Friday. After gaining a point in the morning, the rising Wake Forest senior teamed with Avery, a rising sophomore at the University of Southern California, to defeat Caley McGinty and Emily Price, 3 and 2. The Americans never trailed, but when Price holed out from a greenside bunker for a winning birdie on No. 11, the USA only led by one hole. Winning pars on Nos. 12 and 13 put the USA side back in control.

For Friday’s opening four-ball session, Ratcliffe put out all six of her returnees from the 2021 Match, meaning rookies Williamson and Price would sit. Ingram, the USA captain, countered by playing four of her five returners – only Castle sat with Stone.

A big USA point came from rookies Avery and Megha Ganne, of Holmdel, N.J., who grabbed a 1-up lead on the first hole over Lauren Walsh and McGinty, at No. 10 in the WAGR, the highest ranked player on GB&I’s side, and never looked back in posting a 3-and-2 win. The two 18-year-olds played 3-under-par golf – with the usual match-play concessions – over 16 holes.

Kuehn and Heck provided the second point with a 1-up win over University of Florida standout Annabell Fuller and Darling. Neither side held more than a one-hole advantage, and Heck’s birdie on the 107-yard, par-3 13th provided the difference as the teams tied the final five holes.

GB&I avoided a session sweep when Heath, partnering with 2021 British Women’s Amateur champion Duncan, rolled in an 8-foot birdie on the 189-yard, 17th hole to secure a 2-and-1 win over Zhang and Emilia Migliaccio, of Cary, N.C. Although they played in last year’s Curtis Cup, Heath and Duncan had never been paired together. Ratcliffe had a hunch the two would gel in four-ball.

“We’re both very easy to get along with,” said Duncan, who tied for 10th in last year’s AIG Women’s British Open. “And we both played well.”

GB&I will need that kind of effort on Saturday to get back into this Match.

by David Shefter, USGA

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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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