U.S. victorious again in Curtis Cup

BANDON, ORE.—It wasn’t the American walkover that some anticipated, a fiery Great Britain and Ireland side coming out Sunday looking as much for redemption as a win in the 34th Curtis Cup. Yet ultimately the U.S. lead in the biennial matches was too much to overcome, as the eight-woman, red, white and blue squad continued a decade of dominance in the biggest international competition for female amateur golfers with a 11½-6½ triumph at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

“It’s very satisfying,” said Carol Semple Thompson, a 12-time Curtis Cup participant now victorious in her debut as U.S. captain. “That doesn’t mean it wasn’t very nerve-wracking at the same time.”

Indeed, while entering the final day of the two-day competition with a lopsided 7-2 advantage—sparked by uncharacteristically solid play the first go around in foursomes—the Americans saw their edge cut to just two points in the early afternoon. Only then did they take control of the final four singles matches and watch Duke sophomore-to-be Jennie Lee close out Melissa Reid, 3 and 2, for the Cup clinching point on the Pacific Dunes course

“You have to take your hat off to [the Americans]. They outclasses us again this afternoon over the finishing holes,” noted GB&I captain Ada O’Sullivan, who at the start of the week thought it was her team that had the “home-course” advantage by playing a links-style layout, only to see the 30-mph winds that poured off the coast during the practice rounds unexpectedly—and disappointingly from her perspective—disappear on the weekend.

With the victory, the U.S. claimed the Cup for the fifth straight time and raised their overall record in the 74-year-old event to 25-6-3. (For day-by-day scoring, click here.)

Given their gloomy position on the leader board after Day 1, the GB&I squad not surprisingly took to attacking pins and playing aggressive golf during the second morning foursomes session on the 6,172 yard, par-71 course, hoping to put at least a bit of a scare in the U.S. side much less restore a little of their own pride. “They owe it to themselves to actually reach their full potential,” noted O’Sullivan the previous evening.

Turned out there was some life left in them as the GB&I team proceeded to win 2½ out of a possible three points, a far cry from the 3-0 drubbing they got the previous day. Even the half point felt  like a victory, as Tricia Mangan and Tara Delaney twice saw American counterparts Jane Park and Taylor Leon lining up short putts to close out the match only to flinch.

“We were coming out to win,” said Breanne Loucks, the GB&I’s top player in the matches with a 3-0 record. “We were really up for the afternoon.”

Said Thompson afterward: “I can say that I thought there was a slight momentum shift, but I don’t think it was enough to worry me a great deal.”

True enough, rather than hold any furrowed-brow meeting to get her charges re-focused, Thompson let them relax as they watched the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith on a big-screen TV in the motor coach that doubled as a team locker room before the start of the afternoon session. Ultimately, by the captain not hinting that there was anything to be nervous about, her crew seemed not to feel any additional pressure while needing to win just two of the final six singles matches for the team victory, even as their two lead-off players, Virginia Derby Grimes and Amanda McCurdy, struggled to early losses.

A decisive 5-and-4 victory over__Naomi Edwards __by Leon, who along with Park finished with the best individual records on the American side (3-0-1), put the U.S. within one point of victory with three matches to be decided. Lee, meanwhile, had gone 3 up on Reid with four holes remaining before losing the 15th with a par.

On the par-4 16th, though, Lee hit her approach on the green 30 feet above the hole while Reid landed hers in the back greenside bunker. Lee’s birdie try rolled two feet by, and when Reid failed to hole her 25-footer to save par, the match—and Cup—was decided.

“I actually knew that we were really, really close ... and then I forgot after we finished 16. Then I was going, ‘Wait, 8½ plus my match is 9½,’ ” said Lee, who had help propel her college team to the NCAA title with a T-2 finish at nationals in May. “It just hit me. I had to double check with [teammate] Jenny Suh, and I was like, ‘Wow, we won.’ I was shocked.”

Moments later Paige Mackenzie, a stalwart for the U.S. squad on Day 1, closed out Mangan on the 18th hole for a 1-up win, and Park beat Delaney, 3 and 2, in the anchor match for the final margin.

“I felt very confident in my teammates,” added Mackenzie, who carded a 3-1 record overall. “I think everyone felt the same way. This was something we weren’t going to let get away.”

Mackenzie had some personal incentive, too, after having watched her brother, Brock, go 3-0 for the American side in the 2003 Walker Cup. “I hadn’t been playing well going into this, but when the matches started I was ready to play,” she said. “I’m not sure if Brock was thinking about how I’d do [in comparison], but I know I was.”

“I’m just proud of our little team,” said Park, the lone holdover from the victorious 2004 Curtis Cup squad. “It’s a great opportunity to show what you’re made of and be prideful in your country and play you’re heart out for your country … I’m sure everyone feels that.”

NOTES: Beginning in 2008 at St. Andrews, the Curtis Cup matches will be played over three days and will expand to include four-ball competition in addition to foursomes and singles play. The new structure will have three alternate-shot matches in the mornings of the first two days and three better-ball matches in the afternoons. The final day will be exclusively singles with all eight players on each team competing.

“We felt that there was so much preparation leading up to the Curtis Cup, but then only two days of play,” said Marcia Luigs, chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee. “Another day of competition will only add to the excitement of the Match. And it will be wonderful to have all team members playing in the singles matches.”

Since 1964, the Match has been played over two days, with three foursomes (alternate-shot) matches and six singles matches each day.

*** Except for McCurdy, the entire U.S. squad will compete in next week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge GC outside Portland. The tournament will be amateur event for Mackenzie, who graduated from Washington last spring, and Park, who will forgo her final three years at UCLA and turn professional.