Sarah LeBrun Ingram has a résumé fitting a U.S. Curtis Cup captain. But the three-time former U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion’s absence from the game for more than two decades made a moment like the one she recently experienced seem highly unlikely.
The 53-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., was driving in her car less than two weeks ago when seemingly out of the blue she got a call from USGA president Mark Newell asking her if she would like to oversee the eight-player team that will compete against Great Britain & Ireland in June 2020 at Conwy Golf Club in Wales.
Her reaction: “Surprised. Shocked. Excited. Honored. Apprehensive. Pretty much everything.”
Those were the same feelings that overcame her when the announcement became official on Tuesday, Ingram formally charged with trying to lead the American side to victory on foreign soil for the first time since St. Andrews in 2008.
“Sarah is an incredibly accomplished and well-respected player,” said John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of Championships for the USGA, in a press release. “Her individual USGA record and long history with our association speaks for itself, and we are excited and proud to welcome her as captain.”
For a stretch in the 1990s, there was no better female amateur in the game than Ingram. With her U.S. Mid-Am victories in 1991, 1993 and 1994, the former college All-American at Duke was the first golfer to win the championship three times. She also was runner-up at the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur and played on five U.S. international teams: three Curtis Cups (1992, 1994 and 1996) and two Women’s World Amateur squads (1992 and 1994).
But by age 30, she had given up the game, forced to put her clubs away when rheumatoid arthritis suddenly made it difficult just to grip them. It was a bittersweet time in her life, but one she was ready for as she was set to begin raising her family.
But now another moment she’s ready for is upon her. When the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur was awarded to The Golf Club of Tennessee, where her husband, David, is president, Ingram agreed to be co-chair of the championship. It provided a chance to ease her way back into the sport, her two sons now both in their early 20s.
“It was invigorating,” said Ingram, a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame. “It’s hard to be a past player and not put yourself in their shoes. The players last year were really tough, mentally tough, and just great players. So me in their shoes I wonder how they do that.”
Ingram even was inspired to play again herself, mostly recreationally with her husband. But she also attempted to qualify for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur last fall. “I didn’t make it, but I didn’t embarrass myself either.” She hopes to try it again this year, as well as attempt to qualify for the new U.S. Senior Women’s Open. “I’m really enjoying the game of golf again and all that comes with it,” she said.
She also got to see first-hand what a modern Curtis Cup was like when she attended last year’s match at Quaker Ridge, where the American team claimed the most lop-sided victory in the event’s history, beating GB&I 17-3. The U.S. team has won nine of the last 11 matches but only two of the last four.
“The last time I played a [national] tournament was 23 years ago. So golf has changed a lot in that time,” Ingram said. “The equipment is all new. It’s so different than when I was playing. The amount of tournaments these girls and women are playing … by the time they’re at the Curtis Cup they have so much more experience than we had playing back then. Many have international experience that I didn’t have. I need to get up to speed with all that stuff.”
That Ingram will be in charge of the team that plays in Wales is fitting. Her grandfather is from southern Wales and her mother from English; Ingram says she would travel back to the U.K. each summer to visit family. “This is an extra special part of it. It couldn’t have turned out any better,” Ingram said.
Captaining the America team also gives Ingram a chance to fill a gap from her playing career. While competing on three Curtis Cup teams, Ingram never was on a winning side, the American falling overseas in 1992 and 1996 and halving the match at home in 1994.
“I hope I’m not bad luck,” she joked. “I did play on a winning World Amateur team [in 1994 at Le Golf National outside Paris]. But maybe this is my chance at redemption.”