CURTIS CUP
Small-Town Vaughn Fulfills Big Dream June 4, 2016 By David Shefter, USGA

Strong sophomore and junior campaigns for Arizona State University has Monica Vaughn in great position to help the USA in Ireland. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

The unfamiliar number didn’t compute. Why would someone from Georgia be calling Monica Vaughn in Arizona? When the call went to voicemail, no message was left. When a follow-up call from the same number resulted in a message from USGA President Diana Murphy, Vaughn suddenly realized this might be important.

“Oh my gosh,” she thought. The moment she’d anxiously anticipated since December had arrived. Murphy informed Vaughn she was officially a member of the eight-woman 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team. The 39th Curtis Cup Match, a biennial competition between teams of female amateurs from both the USA and Great Britain and Ireland, will take place June 10-12 at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in Enniskerry, Ireland.

“The first couple of weeks after the San Diego practice session [in late December], I was really antsy,” said Vaughn, the third Oregon native to be selected for a USA Curtis Cup Team, joining Grace DeMoss (1952) and Mary Budke (1974). “But after a while, I realized … it was out of my control.

“This is huge. It’s the first time I’ve ever played on a team representing the United States. It gets me really excited and makes me feel like I am doing something.”

Eight months ago, such an honor didn’t seem possible. The Curtis Cup was as far off Vaughn’s radar as her hometown of Reedsport, a city surrounded by three rivers on the central Oregon coast and a population barely surpassing 4,000. Despite a 2015 season that included All-America honors and a fifth-place finish in the NCAA Championship as a sophomore at Arizona State University, Vaughn took a hiatus from competitive golf. She spent 17 days in Australia with her college roommate and ASU tennis player Gussie O’Sullivan. A kitchen remodeling and her sister Aubrey’s wedding at their family residence occupied the rest of her time.

In fact, she played only three competitive rounds: a 73 at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club to qualify for the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur at the same venue, and 73-80 in the championship proper to miss the cut. A bewildered Vaughn left the scoring area that Tuesday with her worst score since high school. Vaughn realistically didn’t envision winning the Women’s Amateur, but she fully expected to make match play.

Even mentioning the words 2016 Curtis Cup would have drawn a hearty chuckle from Vaughn. Her limited USGA résumé included missed cuts in the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur, as well as a Round-of-32 defeat in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.

“When she left for ASU [in 2013], she probably had a 1-in-100 chance [of making the Curtis Cup],” said her father, Chris.

So when an email arrived last fall inviting Vaughn to an informal practice session in San Diego, everyone, including Monica, was shocked. A strong 2014-15 college campaign, which included six top-10 finishes and her first collegiate victory, in the2015 PING/ASU Invitational, was enough to place her into the top 30 of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR) and catch the attention of the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee.

“I honestly doubt Monica Vaughn knew what the Curtis Cup was when she was in high school,” said Missy Farr-Kaye, her coach at ASU. “She gets it now. She understands the history and tradition and is highly respectful of it.”

Unorthodox Journey

Two years ago, Ally McDonald made the USA Curtis Cup Team from a small town in Mississippi with a nine-hole golf course.

Vaughn has taken a similar path. In fact, she’s never had a formal golf lesson. Monica learned the game by tagging along with her father, a former high school player, and her two older sisters – Emily and Aubrey, both of whom earned Division I scholarships to Portland State – at the rustic nine-hole Forest Hills Country Club in Reedsport. Forest Hills has a driving range, but no practice greens or bunkers.

As her golf game progressed, Monica used junior tournaments to hone her practice skills.

“We created opportunities everywhere we could,” said Chris. “Every time we went to a tournament, it was like a practice session.”

Occasionally, the two would make the 30-minute trek north to Florence to play with Bob Rannow, a noted teaching professional who met Chris while both were students at the University of Oregon. Chris would tell his youngest daughter to closely observe Rannow.

“The running joke in our family was to call it the Bob Rannow Rip-Off Program,” said Chris. “I call it reverse engineering. I would tell her this is what it needs to look like. [But] I gave her a lot of freedom to develop her own style. We were never too strict about specific technique.”

Monica, a naturally gifted athlete who was a three-time all-state volleyball player at Reedsport Community Charter School, absorbed everything. She also played freshman basketball before giving it up to focus more on golf.

That decision paid dividends. In 2010, a 15-year-old Vaughn became the youngest champion of the Oregon Women’s Amateur. That year, she was named Pacific Northwest Golf Association Junior Girls’ Player of the Year, having won the PNGA Junior Girls’ Amateur, the Oregon Junior Girls’ Amateur and Oregon Public Links. She also won the 2011 and 2013 Oregon high school titles, and she still owns course records at four different venues within the state, all of which were posted in high school.

Vaughn, however, played mostly Oregon Junior Golf events rather than traveling to many national events. Chris and Renee Vaughn, Monica’s mother – both Reedsport natives – wanted Monica to be well-rounded, so she shelved her clubs in the fall to play volleyball, helping her high school twice finish third in the state.

In tiny Reedsport, a four-stoplight town that once thrived from a robust timber industry, Vaughn was putting the town on the map as more than just a rest stop for golf enthusiasts heading 50 miles south to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, site of the 2006 Curtis Cup and four other USGA championships.

“If you blink, you’ll miss it,” said Monica, whose graduating class of 39 was smaller than most of her classes at ASU. “I loved growing up there. I went to school with all the same kids since kindergarten. We all support each other.”

Duty (Nearly) Calls

Long before she thought about representing the USA in a golf match, Vaughn nearly suited up for Uncle Sam. Letters began flooding the family mailbox by the summer of her junior year, but one institution caught her eye. Reedsport native Brian Watts, who left Oregon State in 2010 to coach the men’s team at Army, wanted Vaughn to come to West Point.

There was one issue: Army didn’t field a women’s team.

“He wanted me to play on the men’s team,” said Vaughn.

Watts, a longtime family friend (Chris Vaughn is his accountant), first saw Vaughn’s sinewy swing as an eighth-grader and knew she was gifted. He hoped Vaughn could help spark the addition of a women’s golf program at Army.

After Vaughn discussed the pros and cons with her parents, she committed to attend West Point. But before Vaughn went through the nomination process – United States Military Academy candidates must receive a letter of recommendation from a U.S. senator or congressman – Watts failed to get his proposed women’s team approved. He told Vaughn it might be in her best interest to look elsewhere.

“I don’t doubt she could have competed with the men,” said Watts.

So by the time a majority of the class of 2013 had made college choices, Vaughn was still searching. Her break came in July 2012 at the Girls Junior Americas Cup in Hawaii. Coaches from Arizona State and San Diego State were in attendance, and Watts called then-ASU coach Melissa Luellen, whom he knew from his mini-tour days in Arizona, and told her that Vaughn’s competitive drive would be a perfect fit for the Sun Devils. Vaughn committed to ASU immediately after her fall recruiting trip.

“Going to West Point sounded like an amazing idea,” said Vaughn. “It took me awhile [to figure my path out]. I want to play golf and of course I want to play golf after I graduate college. At the time, ASU was fifth in the nation. It was a nice scholarship. I couldn’t turn it down. It’s been an insane journey. I can’t imagine being anywhere else with the coaches I have and the girls on my team.”

Once in Arizona, Vaughn needed her freshman year to adjust. Going to a school with an enrollment (83,301 in 2014) that was nearly 20 times larger than Reedsport was a shock to the system. Farr-Kaye and the coaching staff understood the situation.

“She was really hard on herself and expected a lot out of herself,” said Farr-Kaye, whose sister, Heather, won a pair of USGA championships and played on the 1984 USA Curtis Cup Team. “She was one of those diamond-in-the-rough players. She had this big, booming golf swing and hit it a long way. She just needed to control it better.”

The transformation, both on and off the course, from fall 2013 to now has been remarkable. She nearly won the NCAA title last May, and in February, with USA Curtis Cup Team captain Robin Burke watching, she carded a final-round 65 that sealed a three-stroke victory at the Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge in Palos Verdes, Calif. Vaughn feels that win cemented her spot on the Curtis Cup Team. She owns seven top-10 finishes this season and, as of May 11, is No. 16 in the WAGR.

Vaughn (left) has embraced being the oldest member of the USA Curtis Cup Team, and has quickly bonded with her teammates. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Off the course, Vaughn’s humor and humility affectionately rubs off on others. At 21, she is two years older than anyone on what is the youngest USA Team in the Match’s history. She has become the unofficial team mom, and has bonded with teammates Bethany Wu and Mariel Galdiano over their mutual interest in the popular TV show Grey’s Anatomy.

“She just has that great spirit,” said Burke. “She reaches out to people and she brings people in and that’s going to be important to our team and the unity of the team.”

A palpable buzz has already engulfed Reedsport. When she was named to the team, The World, a daily newspaper in Coos Bay, Ore., placed the story on its front page. A popular pizza parlor had “Congratulations Monica, Team USA, Curtis Cup” on its marquee for several weeks. Some feel it could be the biggest athletic achievement for the area since Coos Bay native Steve Prefontaine gained national fame for his running exploits in the early 1970s.

Vaughn, who will be the 14th Sun Devil to play in the Curtis Cup Match, isn’t taking the selection for granted. Since being picked for the initial practice session, she has devoted more time to her game, and she’s on pace, according to Farr-Kaye, to earn consecutive All-America honors.

“It’s so much fun to watch her week to week because now she’s a player that everyone pays attention to week in and week out,” said Farr-Kaye, who will make the trip to Ireland. “It’s really cool to watch, coming from where she started.”

Further proof that great players can come from anywhere.

Considering her rapid ascent, she should continue to be someone worth watching for the foreseeable future.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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