2004: American Charmers
By Beth Ann Baldry
Before the United States team boarded its plane bound for England at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Annie Thurman offered a gift to each of her seven Curtis Cup teammates. A solitary silver charm with the word “unite” engraved in its center clung to each players’ neck for the next 10 days, aptly depicting the Americans’ primary objective.
In one of the most hyped Curtis Cups matches in recent memory, the U.S. team held off a gritty Great Britain & Ireland squad June 13 to take home the trophy for the fourth consecutive time. After
completing three sessions tied at 6, the Americans secured four victories in Sunday’s singles action to win 10-8.
“It was everything I thought it would be and more,” said Thurman, who captured the deciding point with a 1-up victory over Danielle Masters in the final match. “I’m excited that I played well this week but as you saw, every point mattered.”
With the world’s most talked about female amateur in her lineup, captain Martha Wilkinson Kirouac understood the importance of stressing “a team of eight.” Michelle Wie’s 6-foot-1 shadow easily could have enveloped the Lancashire coastline. But her teammates didn’t let that happen, and neither did the British fans.
More than 15,500 supporters lined the fairways of Formby Golf Club over the course of two days. Wie’s reputation undoubtedly crosses the Atlantic, but fans didn’t limit themselves to a steady diet of Wie-watching. Thousands of fans jockeyed for position on every match, spreading electricity throughout the linksland course.
Patrons didn’t even have to wait for the tournament to begin to see sparks. At a Friday afternoon news conference, GB&I captain Ada O’Sullivan suggested all wasn’t sugar and spice in the U.S. camp because players were jealous of the attention Wie was receiving.
But the Americans refuted that notion.
“You work hard, you should get attention,” said Brittany Lang of Wie, her Saturday foursomes partner. “The thing we know is that we’re all equal. It’s not like she’s put on a pedestal.”
But even Wie wasn’t the belle of Day 1’s opening session. In fact, no American was left standing after the GB&I team got off to a blistering start, sweeping all three morning matches for the first time since 1986. Yet Paula Creamer described the opening slaughter as a “blessing in disguise” for the American team, serving as a wake-up call for the rookie squad. The United States roared back in the afternoon singles session with victories in five of six matches to take a 5-4 lead.
Wie – whose only previous alternate-shot experience came at the last three PGA Tour Sony Open pro-ams where she was paired with Tom Lehman, Jerry Kelly and Paul Azinger – redeemed herself in singles play with a decisive victory against Wales’ Anna Highgate. As the longest hitters on their respective teams, the pair gave spectators double the action on the first tee when both played provisional balls after losing their opening shots to the right. Wie went on to win the hole with a double-bogey 6, and notched two birdies to close the match on the 13th hole.
Erica Blasberg, Jane Park and Creamer also scored points in Saturday’s singles, but it was Thurman’s
5-and-4 victory over Scotland’s Anne Laing that proved most entertaining.
After holing a 10-foot putt for par to win the first hole, Thurman knocked in her third shot from 85 yards for birdie on the par-4 second. The Oklahoma State senior then chipped in for birdie on Nos. 8 and 10 to build a 5-up advantage and held on to close the match with par on the 15th hole.
While O’Sullivan chose to keep her pairings the same for the second foursomes session, Kirouac figured she had nothing to lose by shaking things up.
“I thought we’d locked into pretty good combinations, but we failed miserably the first day,” said Kirouac. “I think I had to take some of that responsibility and try something different.”
The Americans managed to post 1 point in the early session, but GB&I continued to dominate foursomes play. Laing teamed with Ireland’s Claire Coughlan to take down Wie and partner Liz Janangelo for the second consecutive morning. Meanwhile, England’s Emma Duggleby and Shelley McKevitt disposed of Sarah Huarte and Blasberg, 2 and 1, tying the match at 6-6.
Heading into singles play, Kirouac and Co. were confident that history would repeat itself. The United States is known for its poor foursomes performances, but it’s equally distinguished for superior singles play.
Creamer paced the U.S. team’s run with a mighty triumph over Duggleby, arguably the best player on the GB&I squad. Golfweek’s No. 1-ranked junior never trailed in the match, finishing at even par to win, 3 and 2. And as Wie gained confidence on the hard, fast greens, she closed her match against Nicola Timmins on the 13th hole.
“I played lights out,” said Wie, who carded five birdies in her singles match.
Duke’s Janangelo retained the Cup after battling back from a 2-down deficit. The fiery competitor sank a 3-foot putt on the 18th green to score a 1-up victory over McKevitt, then thrust a clenched fist into the air to celebrate her first point of the match.
“This was unbelievable, definitely the top,” said Janangelo, of her week in Formby. “If I were to have to the opportunity to play on another Curtis Cup team I wouldn’t turn pro.”
For the GB&I team, the loss ended a run at holding all four European trophies – Ryder, Walker, Solheim, Curtis – on its side of the Atlantic. Europe’s most precious golf hardware resided inside Formby’s clubhouse for the weekend, in hopes of completing the set.
“We knew this afternoon was going to be difficult because we knew America’s strongest point was singles play,” O’Sullivan said.
Kirouac’s eight schoolgirls took home the trophy in singularly typical fashion. Proving once again that American teams may stand united, but they also thrive on their own.