Nairn, Scotland — Even though the Americans have totaled nearly five rounds of practice golf since arriving on Scottish soil, the eight-player Curtis Cup team has found plenty of time for extracurricular activities.
USA captain Pat Cornett has pored over the stats and procured the playing partner preferences of her team. Cornett jokes that her pairings may come based off a coin flip, but possibly her best analytic are the results of the American’s spirited pingpong matches.
“Pingpong is still up for debate,” said Austin Ernst, 19, when asked who the USA Team’s best individual table tennis player was.
The 22-year-old Brooke Pancake, who will turn pro after this weekend’s competition, has teamed with both Ernst and 19-year-old Amy Anderson in pingpong. Anderson and Pancake defeated Nathan Anderson, Amy’s older brother, and Ernst in one spirited duel.
In essence, that makes Pancake the Americans’ top player, at least when it comes to table tennis.
Tiffany Lua and Erica Popson, both 20, are newcomers to the sport, but have been really impressed by the table talents of Anderson and 20-year-old Emily Tubert.
“But it’s not fair,” said Lua, who went 1-2-0 in the USA’s 12.5-7.5 victory two years ago at Essex County Club in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. “They each have a table at their house. Erica and I are still learning and the others can hold their own.”
If this competitive nature inside the team room carries over to the golf course, then Great Britain and Ireland will be hard pressed to slow the American dominance. The USA owns a 27-6-3 overall Curtis Cup record and has won the last seven Matches in the biennial series.
While the eight American players have known each other through junior and collegiate golf, few have been close friends. That dynamic began to change when the team began gathering for their overseas flight to Scotland last Friday.
“We hit it off the bat really quickly,” said Lua. “Our personalities are all pretty easy going. We end up eating and laughing most of the time.”
Upon arrival in Scotland on Sunday, Cornett polled the players as to whether they would like a side trip to the Old Course at St. Andrews. The players’ answer was unanimous in the affirmative.
Then it was on to Carnoustie Golf Club for a casual round. The Americans have also been to Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, taken a tour of Loch Ness and participated in a cupcake decorating competition with the GB&I Team at Ashers Bakery here in town.
“It’s been a little tiring as we’ve been doing a lot in a short period of time,” said Lua. “They fit a lot of things into the schedule, but we get to experience so much.”
For the confectionary competition on Tuesday, the 16 players were split into four teams of four, two from each Curtis Cup side. Each team decorated six cupcakes, then packaged and priced them to be sold during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Street Party later that day. All four cupcake packages were sold.
“I think our team won even though we were a bit pricey without knowing it,” said Lua, who teamed with Tubert and GB&I’s Charley Hull and Stephanie Meadow. “We charged 6 pounds for six cupcakes. They say they usually charge 5 pounds, but it was for a good cause is what we were thinking.”
Then on Wednesday, Pancake celebrated her 22nd birthday to much fanfare.
“I woke up to birthday cards from people at the hotel and our driver,” said Pancake, who helped Alabama win the recent NCAA Division I Women’s Championship. “I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so my caddie brought me all sorts of great local candies. [Wednesday night] at the formal [Welcome Dinner], at the very end they brought me out this very big cake and sang happy birthday to me.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to experience such a holiday.”
Winning appears to be a common thread throughout the week, but the Americans will not be satisfied unless they hoist the Curtis Cup for an eighth consecutive time on Sunday.
Cornett said her team has been a pleasure to captain and that she has drawn on her experience of being a mother to two girls and a previous two-time Curtis Cup participant (1978 and 1988).
“I’d say I’m more laid back [in my approach to captaining], but I know when to turn it up,” said Cornett, later adding that she has not had to crack the whip with this team.
Added Popson: “Everyone gets along just awesome. “Everybody is pretty much outgoing; we like to laugh a lot and have fun.”
Nonetheless, Popson says the team has its priorities in order. “We will get serious starting [Friday] morning and it might get a little quieter on the [team] tomorrow, because we came here to win.”
Whether it’s table tennis or the more serious task of golf.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelancer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship websites.