Latanna Stone (left) and Emilia Migliaccio (Chris Keane/USGA)
When Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup captain Elaine Ratcliffe addresses her team on Saturday night, she might want to eschew a big speech for the Greek mythological story of Sisyphus. He’s the character who kept rolling a big boulder up a hill, only to have it keep falling back to the bottom.
That’s what Saturday in the 42nd Curtis Cup Match at Merion Golf Club felt like for the visiting side. When it looked like GB&I might sweep the Americans in the three afternoon foursomes matches, the USA managed to get a split – one win, one tie and one defeat – to keep its five-point advantage.
Going into Sunday’s eight singles matches, the USA, which owns an 8½-3½ lead, needs only 1½ points to retain the Cup in biennial competition for a third consecutive time, while GB&I must get a near-sweep (seven points) to regain the Cup it last held in 2016.
Given recent history, it will take a Herculean effort from GB&I. In the last two Curtis Cups, the USA has produced 14½ of a possible 16 points in singles, including a record 8-0 sweep in 2018 at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., in a 17-3 rout.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” said USA competitor Rachel Kuehn, who picked up a clutch point in foursomes with partner Amari Avery. “No matter how we finished today, we’re still not across the line. I think the goal tomorrow is to go out and win all eight singles matches. The goal is not to hit that 10 or 10½ mark [to retain the Cup]. That goal is to win all eight and to walk off with everyone feeling good. I think everyone is aware that the GB&I team is very talented and they are very capable of coming back on us.”
The USA side saw that competitive side in both sessions on Saturday, but especially in foursomes. All three GB&I sides led at the halfway point, and two of those matches saw four-hole advantages. Only the veteran team of Hannah Darling, of Scotland, and Annabell Fuller, of England, held on for a win, defeating Jensen Castle and Latanna Stone, 2 and 1. Darling clinched the victory with a 13-foot birdie on No. 17.
It was the first victory for either player in the Match. Darling, a first-team All-America this past season for the University of South Carolina, and Fuller, a University of Florida standout who made the cut in last year’s AIG Women’s British Open and qualified for last week’s U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica, were a combined 0-5 going into the match.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but the fact that it’s come this late [in the Match] is honestly … a bit annoying,” said Darling of finally getting on the board. “But we got it done, and to almost have the momentum in our favor now going into [Sunday], that’s huge.”
Said Ratcliffe: “The result in the end perhaps does not show the golf that was played out there. Golf is very fair, but golf is also brutal, and I would say at the moment I would put it closer to brutal, how I feel for the players and the manner in which it just slipped through our fingers.”
The GB&I tandem of Wake Forest standout Lauren Walsh and Ohio State transfer Caley McGinty, who earned the lone point of the morning four-ball session, looked like it would have a perfect 2-0 day when it took a 4-up lead thru 11 holes against the Stanford University duo of Rose Zhang and Rachel Heck. But they discovered that beating the No. 1 and 4 players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking® is no easy task.
Zhang and Heck, fresh off winning an NCAA title for the Cardinal in late May, chipped away at the deficit with birdies on 12, 13 and 16. The sides tied the par-3 17th with bogeys before a winning par on No. 18 earned the duo a huge half-point.
“You're not trying to do any crazy math,” said Heck, the 2021 NCAA individual champion. “You're taking it one hole at a time. It's not good to think ahead and think how many holes you have to win. Rose and I were playing well, I know they were playing well, so we just had to be patient out there and wait for things to go our way.”
Avery, a rising sophomore at the University of Southern California, and Wake Forest rising senior Kuehn didn’t have as big of a deficit to erase against Emily Price (Kent State) and Amelia Williamson (Florida State). Avery made a difficult 15-foot birdie on No. 8 to win their first hole of the match. She later converted an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 16 to give the USA tandem a 2-up cushion.
Despite a bogey on No. 17 when the USA side failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker, Kuehn, whose mother, Brenda, played in two Curtis Cups in the 1990s, delivered a clutch approach shot to the middle of the 18th green. GB&I, now likely needing a birdie to get a tie, failed to get up and down for par, and Avery’s lag putt from 30 feet was enough to secure a 2-up victory.
“You always have to expect it’s going to be a tight, hard match,” said Avery, now the only player on either side to be 4-0. “Honestly, I love that. I never want it to be easy. I want to fight hard for my win.”
Mother Nature threw the Match a curve ball on Saturday when glorious sunshine from Day 1 was replaced by overcast skies, cooler temperatures and intermittent rain, the kind of conditions – minus the wind – GB&I players see virtually all the time back home.
But even the change in weather couldn’t change the fortunes of the visitors. Just like in the afternoon foursomes, GB&I had a good opportunity to win the morning four-ball session and cut into what was then a four-point deficit.
The USA somehow managed two points to build its margin to 7-2.
Walsh and McGinty set the tone for a possible rally, registering eight birdies in a 10-hole stretch from No. 5 in closing out Kuehn and Castle, 5 and 4. It matched the largest margin of victory in four-ball, a format that began in 2008 when the competition switched from two to three days.
Walsh, who is Kuehn’s roommate and best friend at Wake, birdied 12, 13 and 14 to close out the match.
“I think the thing in four-ball is to make sure we give ourselves two chances [at birdie],” said Walsh, “and we did that well. That gives you freedom on the greens to hole a putt.”
But GB&I’s hopes were short-lived. Avery and fellow 18-year-old rookie, Megha Ganne, held off Darling and Fuller, 2 and 1. It was Avery who closed out the match with a clutch 5-foot par putt on No. 17 after she was a bit frisky with her 30-foot birdie attempt. Darling had a chance to keep the match going, but watched in disbelief as her 4-foot par putt lipped out.
Avery and Ganne, an incoming Stanford freshman, improved to 2-0 as a team.
“Once you get into a zone, the whole rookie-veteran thing goes out the window,” said Avery. “It’s just who can hit the ball the best and like I have said multiple times, we mesh really well together.”
Stone, a rising senior at Louisiana State University, and Wake Forest graduate student Emilia Migliaccio looked all but defeated when Florida State rising junior Charlotte Heath holed a 15-foot birdie on No. 15 to give her and 2021 British Women’s Amateur champion Louise Duncan a 2-up lead. Undeterred, Stone knocked her approach to the par-4 16th to 3 feet for a winning birdie. She then converted a clutch 10-foot par putt on the par-3 17th hole to tie the match.
Instead of getting a half-point or losing a full point, the USA earned a full point when Migliaccio was the only player to reach the 402-yard 18th in regulation, and her two-putt par secured a come-from-behind, 1-up victory.
“I’m just so ecstatic,” said Stone. “I’m just so proud of us.”
The same could be said for the entire USA Team.
by David Shefter, USGAView results for Curtis Cup