Alabama's Kristen Gillman still unbeaten as U.S. builds Curtis Cup lead

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Alabama's Kristen Gillman still unbeaten as U.S. builds Curtis Cup lead

Amateur

Alabama's Kristen Gillman still unbeaten as U.S. builds Curtis Cup lead

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Kristen Gillman has kept every photo she has ever taken (or received) on her iPhone. It took a few seconds to scroll back to one from the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Not a trophy shot from her victory, but rather the moment that essentially kept her off the 2016 Curtis Cup team.

She was in a fairway bunker on the second hole at Nassau Country Club, the 20th hole in a third-round match against NCAA champion Celine Boutier. Gillman, then 16, felt a tug on her right wrist when her club hit the lip, but adrenaline kept the pain at bay. Her spectacular run in Glen Cove, N.Y., culminated in a 36-hole win against Brooke Henderson.

It was after Gillman came down from that high that the pain set in. She went to five doctors before being diagnosed with a tear in her right wrist in of November of 2014 and was in a cast for six weeks. It was two months before she could hit chip shots. For six months she had minimal practice, minimal warmup rounds. She did what she could to prepare for the run of major championship appearances that comes with a Women’s Amateur title. But her game wasn’t the same. 

“It took another year before she got back to Kristen on the course,” said her father, Mark.

And so, Gillman wasn’t on that 2016 Curtis Cup team as her ranking plummeted. She was gutted, of course, but used it as motivation for the next two years. This week at Quaker Ridge, she’s the MVP so far, the only player on the American roster who has gone 4-0. A victory on Sunday in singles against a wide-eyed Annabell Fuller, 16, would make her the third player in Curtis Cup history to go 5-0, joining the likes of Stacy Lewis (2008) and Bronte Law (2012). 

“I think after they announced the practice team, I won my next three tournaments three years ago,” said Gillman. 

The 40th Curtis Cup turned into a blowout not long after lunch. The afternoon foursomes play wasn’t pretty at times, but Team USA padded its lead to 9-3 after sweeping the morning session. 

“They were raring to go at lunchtime,” said U.S. captain Virginia Derby Grimes.

It has been an incredibly taxing run for Gillman in particular, who went 3-0 in match play at the NCAA Championship and then made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open last week. She’s one of three American players to play all four matches at Quaker Ridge. 

Alabama coach Mic Potter is amazed by how far Gillman has come physically in college. 

“Our first conditioning day when she got to school,” said Potter, “I wasn’t sure if she was going to stay on top of her feet. Her ankles were all over the place.”

Now she’s a marvel of stability and stamina. At the NCAA Championship in steamy (and hilly) Stillwater, Okla., she seemed to race around Karsten Creek with her push cart. There were moments when Potter had a tough time keeping up. 

Gillman is scheduled to graduate in three years at Alabama. She has never made anything less than an “A.” The over-achieving first-team All-American is particularly impressive in match play because she’s rarely in trouble. It’s her steadiness that wears people down.

“She kind of lulls you to sleep,” said Potter.

It’s obvious that Gillman is having a blast this week. Potter said her close circle of friends at Alabama – beyond the golf team – plays a key role in her decision to stay in Tuscaloosa. That’s a factor, Potter noted, that many tend to forget when deciding whether or not to turn pro.

“It’s the best time of your life,” he said.

This week included.

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