2004: Curtis Cup - Age aside, U.S. squad full of experience

It was June 1976 when Carol Semple Thompson slipped on a pair of crisp, white gloves and curtsied before Queen Elizabeth. Farther down the receiving line her fresh-faced Curtis Cup teammates found the formality of Buckingham Palace to be more than a touch amusing.

But Semple Thompson – and a pair of 19-year-old hotshots named Nancy Lopez and Beth Daniel – didn’t cross the pond to impress the queen. The United States gave Great Britain & Ireland a royal thumping at the Curtis Cup that year, 111⁄2 to 61⁄2.

With this year’s competition June 12-13 at Formby Golf Club just north of Liverpool, England, the only British royalty the U.S. team likely is to encounter is a distant relative of Ringo Starr.

Beatles fans, however, could be few and far between among these children of the ’80s.

The average age of the eight rookies that compose the U.S. team is 18.5, compared with GB&I’s average age of 24.5. At 22, Sarah Huarte is the American squad’s oldest member, and Michelle Wie, 14, is the youngest player selectedin the event’s 72-year history.

Jane Park and Paula Creamer, both 17, join Wie as the team’s under-18 set. The team is young, but five players on captain Martha Wilkinson Kirouac’s squad teed it up at the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship in March, and four made the cut. Wie finished fourth, her second top 10 at an LPGA major, and Park garnered her second top-30 showing.

“We’re getting the best of the best,” said Park.

“I don’t think age is a concern for the Curtis Cup. We’ve all shown we can play in the best fields in the world.”

In between reading “Les Miserables” for her 11th-grade English class and studying for the SAT, Park, a resident of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., traveled to San Diego for an equipment overhaul. The folks at Fujikura hooked her up with their latest Speeder shaft before stores had it in stock. Park then visited the nearby Callaway factory, where they custom-fitted her new shafts to a set of irons.

Thompson, who is not on this year’s team after eight consecutive Curtis Cups, marvels at the opportunities junior players now enjoy. The 55-year-old was introduced to the game at age 6 and recalls playing for years with her mother’s hand-me-downs.

“I don’t think I got my first set of new clubs until I was in college,” said Thompson, who has made a record 12 Curtis Cup appearances. “I think people relied much more on their swings for accomplishing something.”

Park isn’t the only one getting the goods.

Creamer, Golfweek’s No. 1-ranked junior, has a passion for the color pink, and Scotty Cameron made sure her Newport putter matches her hat, shoes, clothes, bag, tees and most importantly, her polished fingernails. Creamer is expecting her latest one-of-a-kind Cameron design to arrive complete with the words “Pink Panther” written on the back.

But don’t be fooled by her watered-down version of Sunday red. This talented teen-ager from Pleasanton, Calif., is as spirited as they come.

In the 2002-03 season, Creamer dominated the junior circuit, winning eight Golfweek-ranked events en route to Golfweek and AJGA Player of the Year honors. She was a semifinalist at the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur, and also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open.

Creamer set her sights on making the Curtis Cup team 11⁄2 years ago. Park, however, first heard of the biennial event this past July when Creamer expressed an interest at the AJGA’s Betsy Rawls Girls National Championship. Park defeated Creamer by four strokes that week, shooting a tournament-record 65-69-68.

The two would meet again one week later in the semifinals of the Women’s Amateur, where the teen tandem combined for 11 birdies in 17 holes. Park’s precision on the greens – converting 10 putts within 10 feet – gave her a 2-and-1 victory.

Although they provide an exciting atmosphere as opponents, Creamer and Park are even more potent as a pair. In addition to their two Junior Solheim Cup experiences, the teens partnered at The Spirit International Amateur in Texas last October. Together they recorded 37 birdies and an eagle in four days of best-ball competition to easily win the women’s division.

Galleries at Formby undoubtedly will scurry to catch a glimpse of Wie, the U.S. team’s high-profile player. The Honolulu native will be representing her country for the first time, but, like her peers, rarely cracks under pressure.

Wie-mania likely will take center stage at Formby, but Park and Creamer know it will take the effort of eight to retain the cup. And they plan on savoring every moment.

“I’ve done it a couple of times and I absolutely love the feeling of standing on the first tee wearing red, white and blue,” said Creamer. “It’s an honor.”

Regardless of age.

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