SCARSDALE, N.Y. – The last time Great Britain and Ireland won the Curtis Cup on foreign soil was 1986 in Hutchinson, Kan. Not a single player in this competition was even born back then. History is not on the side of the visiting team, but the gallery at Quaker Ridge Golf Club certainly seemed to be. Roughly 300 fans crossed the pond to New York, and they’re as loud in costume as they are in voice.
On paper, the visitors are sorely outmatched. The worst-ranked player on Team USA is Mariel Galdiano at No. 22. The top two players in the world – Lilia Vu and Jennifer Kupcho – actually paired together in foursomes Friday afternoon and won. Team USA by World Amateur Ranking: 1-2-5-6-8-9-15-22.
Olivia Mehaffey, a junior at Arizona State, is the top-ranked player on Captain Elaine Farquharson-Black’s squad. Team GB&I’s rank reads like lottery numbers: 16-33-67-69-73-73-96-98-204.
Perhaps they’ll get lucky.
“Two years ago, I think everyone in America was top 20 in the world and we won,” said Mehaffey. “Match play is a really funny game. Anything can happen.”
Team USA leads 4-2 after Day 1 of competition. Former Auburn player/coach Virginia Derby Grimes put out her two Alabama teammates in afternoon foursomes and rode a 5-under performance to a 4-and-2 victory. Derby Grimes had no problem shouting “Roll Tide” to that.
A couple of stars from GB&I’s 2016 performance have already turned pro – Bronte Law and Leona Maguire, who actually made her professional debut today at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. Maguire did the voiceover for an inspirational video GB&I put together, and then came on at the end and wished everyone luck.
Mehaffey learned plenty from Law and Maguire two years ago in Dublin and stepped naturally into a leadership role this week. The 20-year-old from Northern Ireland started off tight in Friday’s morning session from too much self-imposed pressure. She let loose on the back nine, however, and stuffed a wedge into the 17th for birdie and then holed a 12-foot par putt on the last to secure a crucial half point.
In the afternoon, Mehaffey and Sophie Lamb paired together once more to take down the Pac-12 punch of Andrea Lee and Galdiano, the only point for GB&I in foursomes play.
For GB&I to cut into the Americans’ lead, they’ll need Mehaffey at her best the rest of the way. One year after Mehaffey helped GB&I win the Curtis Cup, she won all three of her matches en route to Arizona State winning the 2017 NCAA Championship.
“The interesting thing about Olivia is, the more you need her, the more she comes through,” said Arizona State assistant coach Michelle Estill.
Like at this year’s NCAA Championship, when Mehaffey went for the green in two on the closing par 5 at Karsten Creek. Estill knew Mehaffey likely needed to make birdie to give the Sun Devils a chance at making the cut. After chipping it to 10 feet from a crummy lie, Mehaffey looked over at Estill and said: Do I need this?
Estill confirmed. Mehaffey stepped up and jarred it.
“I thrive on those situations,” said Mehaffey, who prefers going out first and having the pressure fall on her shoulders. “I love being the last putt.”
Mehaffey’s earliest memory of pulling off something heroic came as a 13-year-old at Home Internationals when she holed a bunker shot on the 17th hole. She can’t remember being any other way.
“I have a burning fire inside me,” she said. “I just want to win.”