Curtis Cup preview
So much for any “home-course advantage,” huh?
“I’ve only had [U.S. captain] Carol Semple Thompson say that to me about 50 times,” joked Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competitions.
Seriously, though, instead of taking the event to a parkland layout where Americans familiarity with hitting the ball high and far—and the GB&I’s lack there of—is best exploited, this weekend’s 34th playing of the matches will occur on a course where hitting stingers low and true off the tee is paramount.
And right up the sweatered sleeves of the visiting side.
“We feel very much at home,” said GB&I captain Ada O’Sullivan. “For our players, most of our training has been done on links golf courses, and a lot of them would have grown up on those kind of golf courses. So when you ask, do we feel at home, we do. We don't believe for one moment, absent the clubhouse and the American accents, that we're actually some place different.”
So happy with the venue was O’Sullivan that she went on to suggest during her pre-tournament press conference Friday that it was her squad that has the course-familiarity edge. “The Americans I know are going to offer a very tough challenge to us,” she said. “But I just feel that with the way we have prepared, if we play the course the way we have or administer it the way we want to play the course, then I do believe we are unbeatable.”
Bold words for a team that last won the Curtis Cup in 1996, has beaten the U.S. on the road just once (1986 at Prairie Dunes) and trails overall in the competition 24-6-3.
No doubt, O’Sullivan is looking for a little revenge, having captained the GB&I team to a near miss at England’s Formby GC in 2004, when her side lost four of the final six singles matches Sunday to fall 10-8. Claire Coughlan is back from that team, along with three other Irish players, Tara Delaney,Tricia Mangan and Martina Gillen, specifically chosen for this trip thanks to their prowess on the links land. (Also keep your eye on Kiran Matharu, a 17-year-old from Leeds, England.)
Before handing over the cup to the GB&I team during Friday night’s opening ceremony, however, understand this. Thompson’s U.S. crew might not have grown up practicing how to hit shots below the wind on a regular basis, but they certainly know how to do it. Moreover, in former U.S. Women's Amateur champion Jane Park, 2006 NCAA player of the year__ Amanda Blumenherst, three-time college All-American Paige Mackenzie __ and 2006 North and South Amateur champion__ Jenny Suh__, they have a foursome that’s playing as well as any amateur golfers in the world.
To try and gain some local knowledge, Thompson took her team to Bandon earlier this month to scout out the course. While there, they faced much milder conditions, something Thompson at first was disappointed with but now suggests might have been a blessing.
“It was probably a good thing that we didn't have severe conditions then because it really gave the players a chance to realize that they could play the course relatively easily,” said the 12-time Curtis Cup player who is captaining her first team. “It wasn't unplayable. And they could hit the ball a little off line and maybe not be totally unplayable. So this week of practice has been much better because the wind has come up and still they feel comfortable on the golf course.”
“It was a great week to get to know your teammates,” added Park.
Park and mid-amateur Virginia Derby Grimes are the only Americans who have previously played in the event, but it’s Thompson’s vast experience that’s most important, and something that has already been put to good use. With players on-site a full five days before the two-day event begins Saturday, the risk of playing too much golf early and peaking before the competition actually begins is great. To counter that, Thompson hasn’t pushed for a lot of practice, leaving it up to the players regarding how best they spend their time.
“When she’s talking, we’ll listen and hear what she has to say and definitely take her advice,” Blumenherst said.
Critical to the GB&I squad’s chances will be to start off well in Saturday’s morning foursomes, a format that they’ve dominated in year’s past. At Formby, GB&I went 3-0 and (5-1 for the two days). A repeat performance will put them in position to make-up for a dismal showing in singles in 2004 and end a decade of Curtis Cup disappointment.
Still, expect the Americans to hang tough this week. The squad is just too deep, with two players missing from the team (Irene Cho and Ashley Knoll) that might be as good as the eight that are here. Yes, they might not have the home-course advantage. But there’s little doubt they have the golfers to win this, and a captain with plenty of know how to get the job done.