2006: Curtis Cup - Seaside Suprema
Jennie Lee, Jane Park and Taylor Leon sat in the media room at the conclusion of the 34th Curtis Cup and studied the results engraved on the trophy sitting in front of them.
“We’re good,” said Lee.
It was the understatement of the match.
Yes, Jennie, the U.S. team is quite good. So good, in fact, that its latest conquest over Great Britain and Ireland brought the lopsided overall record to 25-6-3.
Of course Lee didn’t even realize her superb two-putt from 30 feet on a slippery 16th green at Pacific Dunes gave the U.S. team the 91⁄2 points needed to clinch the Cup until her teammates came rushing down the hill to greet her.
“I think there was a leaderboard on 15 or so and then I forgot after we finished 16 and then I was going, ‘Wait, 81⁄2 plus my match is
91⁄2,’ ” said Lee, who defeated England’s Melissa Reid, 3 and 2. “So it just hit me.”
The Duke sophomore double-checked her math with foursomes partner Jenny Suh in mid-celebration. Finally convinced that she’d scored the winning point, Lee let it all sink in.
This was a player who wasn’t even used in the opening foursomes matches Saturday. After watching her teammates tee off in the morning, she went shopping with Suh and bought some new shades before heading out in the afternoon to score a point in the singles session.
Such is the depth of U.S. captain Carol Semple Thompson’s team. When she benches a player, chances are she’s a first-team All-American like Lee and Suh. Or better yet, Amanda Blumenherst, the college player of the year who tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open in July and then sat out Sunday afternoon.
Still, with Blumenherst passing out sandwiches from the sidelines, the Americans won four matches in the final session to claim an 111⁄2 - 61⁄2 victory. Leon and Park led the way for the Americans with 3-0-1 records. It marked the fifth consecutive victory for the U.S. team.
“You have to take your hat off to them,” said GB&I captain Ada O’Sullivan. “They outclassed us again this afternoon over the finishing holes.”
The GB&I team hoped to fill the talent gap with a sizable wind. The visiting team couldn’t believe it was playing a true links course in America until the players got off the plane and saw architect Tom Doak’s masterpiece for themselves. Ireland’s Tricia Mangan went so far as to call Pacific Dunes the best links layout she’s ever seen. High praise, indeed, from across the pond.
O’Sullivan did everything she could to arm
her wind warriors. When selecting her team, O’Sullivan passed over players with high ball flights and long carry off the tee in favor of links lovers with solid short games. They held a practice session at Kingsbarns in Scotland along the North Sea and knocked down shot after shot.
But Pacific Dunes didn’t come as advertised. Mother Nature gave the wind a weekend off.
A windless practice session in early July was a blessing in disguise for Thompson’s team when conditions turned sunny and tranquil during the opening round.
The U.S. team, playing as calm and cool as the weather, stunned Great Britain and Ireland by sweeping the morning foursomes session, 3-0. Because the Americans are historically poor at alternate shot and quite strong at singles play, their surprise start raised an immediate red flag in the GB&I camp.
O’Sullivan’s team had a chance to put one point on the board when the third match came to the par-5 18th all square. But Claire Coughlan hit her approach heavy and left it in a greenside bunker. Reid couldn’t blast out close and the Americans two-putted for par and a 1-up victory.
“Well, I’ve been hearing for weeks now that these players enjoy the wind, love the wind, it doesn’t matter if it’s blowing,” said Thompson. “But I personally feel it was a huge advantage to us that the wind didn’t blow today.”
Two years ago at Formby, where the Americans squeaked out a 10-8 victory in front of an electric English crowd, the start was completely reversed: GB&I shut out the U.S. team in Day 1 foursomes. O’Sullivan tried to turn the Americans’ pain two years prior into a glimmer of hope.
“Obviously heads were down and the morale was low, but we tried to make the comparison to Formby of two years ago,” said O’Sullivan. “Martha Kirouac came up to me, the U.S. captain (in 2004), and just said, ‘Formby.’ ”
Even Thompson’s mother, Phyllis, who has attended 20 Curtis Cup matches, said during lunch that at the risk of sounding like a traitor, she wished O’Sullivan’s team had posted at least one point. She knew a rout was on the horizon and those are rarely fun to watch – even when your daughter is captaining the winning squad.
“She’s going to enjoy her lunch a lot more than I did (two years ago),” said Kirouac. “I told her ‘Carol, you’re taking all the fun out of this thing. There’s no challenge.’ ”
The visiting team didn’t fare much better in the afternoon, scoring only two points to trail 7-2 after Day 1. The last time a team battled back on the second day to win the Cup was the U.S. in 1968.
O’Sullivan ordered up 40-knot winds for Sunday’s play, but Mother Nature didn’t
comply. Her team seemed to adjust to the calm conditions, however, and got off to an aggressive start. The U.S. only managed to post a half-point in the second foursomes session and entered the afternoon with a 71⁄2-41⁄2 lead.
Even Thompson was pleased to see the opposing side put up a fight.
“I think it’s probably better for the afternoon matches,” said Thompson. “We have something to play for.”
When asked if the American team was slightly rattled by its poor performance Sunday >>> <<< morning, Lee responded with a simple “Nope.” There were no impassioned speeches by Thompson or veteran teammates. Instead the American players drew inspiration from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie by watching “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” while lounging in their luxury RV, which doubled as a locker room. Thompson managed to tear her team away from the movie for a couple of minutes to announce pairings, then it was back to the movie.
With the U.S. needing only two points to win the Cup outright, there was surely more drama in one of Pitt’s high-speed chases than there was on the Pacific course.
Taylor Leon posted the first point for the U.S. by steamrolling over England’s Naomi Edwards, 5 and 4. Lee secured the winning point on the 16th green minutes before Paige Mackenzie closed her match out on No. 18.
Mackenzie played catch-up for most the day against Mangan, who seemed unshakable from the start. But the Washington native didn’t want to let down the throngs of people who came out to support the pride of the Pacific Northwest. Sporting the 25 “Team Mackenzie” T-shirts Paige ordered from a shop in Bandon, dozens of faithful followers cheered on the recent Washington grad.
A pair of clutch two-putts down the stretch kept her in the match and the pair headed to the 18th all square. A routine par up the last proved enough to defeat Mangan, but the win came a touch too late to carry much clout as it only added to the American’s commanding victory. Still, it tasted sweet to the first-team All-American who didn’t quite match brother Brock’s perfect 3-0 Walker Cup record, but held her own at 3-1.
“I was definitely thinking about it,” said Mackenzie of her brother’s showing in 2003. “As my (amateur) career winds down it’s just nice to get this experience in, especially since it’s close to home and I have all this support.”
Only one player in the field left Pacific Dunes unscathed. GB&I’s Breanne Loucks, a feisty 18-year-old from Wales, went 3-0 after sitting out the first foursomes match.
Youth seemed to carry O’Sullivan’s squad, which made her decision not to play Kiran Matharu on Sunday all the more puzzling. Matharu, 17, posted one of two points for GB&I on Saturday and was promptly benched for the remainder of the tournament. Matharu, the 2006 English Match Play champion, was making her first and last Curtis Cup appearance. She plans to turn professional following the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
And just like that, the player heralded as the next great hope for England made her Curtis Cup contribution on Day 1 and disappeared with the wind.
As Lee, Park and Leon twirled the silver Cup around to get a little history lesson, they somehow managed to loosen it from its base. The trio of teens struggled with putting the trophy back together for several minutes before finally leaving it sitting on the table slightly lopsided.
Just like the U.S. team’s record.