Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. – Perhaps there was a subtle message delivered early Friday in the 36th Curtis Cup.
Sally Watson of the visiting Great Britain & Ireland squad was lining up a birdie putt on the par-5 fifth hole at Essex County Club and noticed American Jessica Korda stationed almost behind her.
“Please stand aside,” the English teen asked politely, not wanting the USA to get too good of a look at the line.
At least for one day, the USA Team found itself behind quite a bit and had no choice but to move aside.
Young, unheralded and the clear underdog, the GB&I squad enjoyed a remarkable first day, winning two of three afternoon four-ball matches to help forge a surprising 3½-2½ lead.
“It’s a good start, but, obviously, it’s far from over,” said Watson after teaming with 15-year-old Lisa Maguire for a 1-up victory over Korda and Tiffany Lua in the final four-ball match. “We played well; it gives us confidence to play even better tomorrow.”
This was no small feat the visitors pulled off on the historic Donald Ross-designed course. The last time GB&I led after the first day was in 1996, which, not coincidentally, was the last time it won – although then it was just a two-day event. Nevertheless, not many expected them to have a pulse come Saturday against such an accomplished and experienced squad playing at home.
It’s been even longer since the visitors beat the Yanks on the road, which has happened exactly once. That occurred in 1986 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., when GB&I registered a 13-5 whipping. Quick math tells you that was two years before the oldest current GB&I member, 22-year-old Danielle McVeigh of Ireland, was born.
“Different era, different day,” said GB&I captain Mary McKenna.
What’s even more amazing is that the GB&I lead could have been larger. Watson and Rachel Jennings had the USA pair of Jennifer Song and Jennifer Thompson, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and runner-up, respectively, dormie on the 17th tee in the first foursomes match, but they lost the last two holes to gain just a half-point. In the afternoon, GB&I led in all three matches at one juncture.
“The morning was actually a great boost in that nobody lost. We realized that we really can play with the Americans,” said McKenna, a playing member of that 1986 squad. “In the afternoon we played with some confidence.”
They also played with a measure of pure joy. McKenna says her team likes the Essex CC layout, and it showed. Scotland’s Pamela Pretswell said it is the best course she has ever played.
Youngsters tend to say things like that when they’re making birdies, which is what Pretswell and McVeigh did frequently in their 4-and-3 thrashing of Song and Kimberly Kim, who between them own three USGA titles and have been in seven combined USGA amateur finals.
Pretswell and McVeigh combined for seven birdies, none more spectacular than the rescue club Pretswell nailed to 5 feet from 180 yards at the par-4 13th that helped restore a 4-up lead.
“We got some momentum early in the game, and that helps,” said Pretswell, who is playing pretty swell in her first trip to the U.S. “It was also nice seeing us doing well in other matches. It makes you smile.”
“We’re not really that surprised,” said the lanky McVeigh, who birdied the first two holes to get GB&I rolling in the afternoon. “We know how good the U.S. team is, but we can play, too, and we’re enjoying ourselves out there.”
“I know we’re a bit of an unknown, but we feel like we have a great team,” Watson added. “We’re excited to be here. I know we kind of let a half a point go this morning, but we didn’t really play that well, so in a way we were happy with what we got.”
What the Americans have right now is all they can handle, but there’s certainly no reason to panic.
“There’s lots of golf left, USA Captain Noreen Mohler said calmly. “We just need to keep it light. They (her team) know how to play the golf course, and they know how to play golf. We’re fine with the position we’re in.”
Indeed, there’s no reason to panic, even if the position you’re in is foreign to the home team.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.