La Quinta, Calif. – Austin Ernst strode to the first tee of the Greg Norman Course at PGA West, proudly displaying the purple and gold of Louisiana State University. Her playing partner, Brooke Pancake, waited her turn, shod in her University of Alabama golf shoes.
The starter’s voice rang out. “Step back, LSU. Alabama first!” Much to Ernst’s chagrin, she was forced to cede the teeing ground as a consequence of the Crimson Tide’s 21-0 dismantling of Ernst’s beloved Tigers in the Jan. 9 BCS championship football game.
It’s not easy to get a Bayou Bengal and a member of the Crimson Tide to see eye to eye. Add a UCLA Bruin, University of Southern California Trojan, North Dakota State Bison, Duke Blue Devil, Tennessee Volunteer and Arkansas Razorback to the mix and it can prove daunting indeed.
Breaking down those college barriers was at the forefront of the USA Team’s sole practice session ahead of the 2012 Curtis Cup Match, which will be contested June 8-10 at The Nairn Golf Club in Scotland against an eight-player team from Great Britain and Ireland. All eight USA Team members assembled at La Quinta Resort & Club in the Coachella Valley on the last weekend in January for their lone opportunity to learn about each other – and prepare to defend the Curtis Cup, something the Americans have successfully done in the biennial competition since 1998.
Dr. Pat Cornett, captain of the USA Team, was faced with the daunting task of taking eight young women and merging their individual talents into one cohesive unit.
“Knowing that we had players from collegiate programs that normally would play with each other, I knew that they would know each other,” said Cornett, who competed on the 1978 and 1988 Curtis Cup Teams. “If you looked at the trajectory of how they bonded through the two days, I thought that was pretty remarkable.”
“Although I knew most of the players before, it was mostly from them being my competitors,” said 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Amy Anderson, a junior at North Dakota State and, at 19, the youngest member of the team. “Being able to bond as teammates and get to know each other as friends was special. I think it went a long way toward building the team chemistry that will be vital to our success in Scotland.”
Despite the distance separating the players, team camaraderie was instantly apparent.
“I feel so blessed to be part of such a talented group of players who are also wonderful people,” said 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Emily Tubert, a sophomore at Arkansas. “I don't think we stopped laughing the entire weekend.”
Beyond team dynamics, Cornett impressed upon the team the importance of preparing for the various match-play formats that comprise the Curtis Cup Match.
Most team members have limited experience with the four-ball (best-ball) and foursomes (alternate-shot) formats utilized at the Curtis Cup Match, a fact borne out by winning percentages. Since the Match’s inception in 1932, the USA has won 73 percent of the singles matches compared to 55 percent of foursomes. The four-ball format has been used only since 2008 when the Match went from two to three days, with the USA taking eight of the 12 matches (67 percent).
“Captain Cornett was super helpful in acquainting us with the match-play formats and we talked about different strategies,” said Lindy Duncan, a junior at Duke. “Team USA is such a fun group and our energy was awesome on and off the course.”
By playing 45 holes over two days, the USA Team had ample opportunity to put its newfound knowledge into practice on the TPC Stadium and Norman courses at PGA West and the Mountain Course at La Quinta, all of which offered stunning mountain views as a backdrop for the team bonding.
On Saturday afternoon, the team squared off in matches with a group of eight local players, including USGA Women’s Committee member and 1976 USA Curtis Cup player Barbara Barrow, LPGA Symetra Tour player Kristin Walla and members of the Palm Springs High School girls’ golf team.
“We were lucky enough to play foursomes and best ball on three beautiful golf courses and even got the chance to compete against local amateurs,” said Duncan. “It was really fun getting to know everyone's games and interacting with the local players and caddies.”
Saturday also marked the first appearance of the USA Team’s official uniforms. Players traded school colors for one unified appearance as they took to the TPC Stadium Course and won the afternoon competition, 4.5 points to 1.5 points.
Following each day’s activities, Cornett gathered her players for a closing discussion and solicited their thoughts on the day’s rotating partnerships. Tiffany Lua, a UCLA junior and the sole returning member of the 2010 USA Team that defeated GB&I, 12½-7½, shared her thoughts on representing her country.
Cornett and the team, which also includes Lisa McCloskey of USC and Erica Popson of Tennessee, created a list of defining values, and Duncan recommended a team slogan of “Clear hearts, full eyes, can’t lose,” an inspirational mantra from the television show “Friday Night Lights.”
On Sunday, after 2½ days of nearly nonstop golf, food, music and laughter, the players went their separate ways. It will be up to them to maintain their focus before they depart for the Match on June 1.
“I personally will be working on improving my putting, bump-and-runs and knock-down shots to get ready for links-style golf,” said Anderson, one of several players making her first trip abroad.
“In one way, this just leads us to building to a peak going to Nairn,” added Cornett. “I think that’s a nice thing to have, the expectation of June.”
Christina Lance is a championship communications coordinator for the USGA. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.