CURTIS CUP
From Shoal Creek to Quaker Ridge: 4 USA Players Embrace Schedule June 6, 2018 | Scarsdale, N.Y. By Bill Fields

Andrea Lee has had a crazy month that includes the U.S. Women's Open, this week's Curtis Cup and preparing for final exams. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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The wake-up calls came early on Monday for Kristen Gillman and Lucy Li. Each took the first available flight from Birmingham, Ala., to New York’s LaGuardia Airport to start their week at the 40th Curtis Cup match.

After 72 holes of competition at Shoal Creek in the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open, the two Americans could have been on something other than the 6:20 a.m. flight. But they chose to join their USA teammates for an outing in Manhattan. The other six USA Curtis Cup players – including Andrea Lee and reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Sophia Schubert – had flown to New York on Saturday after missing the 36-hole cut at Shoal Creek.

“We gave them the option to come in any time they wanted on Monday,” said USA captain Virginia Derby Grimes. “We had a big day planned. They both wanted to be on that first flight out and be with their teammates. I don’t think they’ve missed a beat.”

Playing only an hour’s drive from the University of Alabama, where she is a sophomore, Gillman fared best among the USA Curtis Cup competitors in the field at Shoal Creek, finishing at 5-over 293 to earn a share of 27th place.

“Playing last week definitely helped with confidence. I think my game’s in good shape,” Gillman, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, said Thursday morning after the final practice round ahead of the three-day biennial competition at Quaker Ridge Golf Club. “We’re all rested up and ready to get it started.”

Gillman, 20, of Austin, Texas, was in a Thursday-Friday Women’s Open grouping with fellow U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and ex-Alabama All-American Emma Talley, who was a member of the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team.

“I talked to Emma and she said it was the best time in her life,” said Gilman, who also discussed the Curtis Cup with World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, a 1982 USA Team member who is at Quaker Ridge this week to work the FS1 broadcast. “She was just saying how much fun this week is, and just to enjoy it.”

Li, 15, of Redwood Shores, Calif., playing in her first Women’s Open since becoming the youngest to compete in the championship at age 11 in 2014, had it rolling at Shoal Creek in the first round but bogeyed the last three holes to shoot even-par 72. She wound up tied for 55th.

“I think if I can get my putting to work, it’s going to be a good week,” said Li. “I learned a lot last week. The courses are similar – they’re both really hard. You need to have a lot of patience. You’re going to make mistakes.”

The first 15-year-old on the USA Curtis Cup team since Lexi Thompson in 2010, Li admitted to being weary when she landed in New York, but there was no golf on Monday. Instead, she joined her teammates for a visit to the New York Stock Exchange and combined USA/Great Britain and Ireland Team dinner with a view at One World Trade Center.

“It was exciting – I got to ask them a lot of questions,” Li said of being at the trading hub.

Lucy Li says competing in last week's U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek was great preparation for her first Curtis Cup. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Because Schubert and Lee, a last-minute alternate into the field, both missed the cut in Alabama, they got a head start to this week’s Match at Quaker Ridge.

“My confidence did go down a bit last week, and I’m working to get it back,” said Schubert, 22, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., the oldest member of the USA Team. “I feel I’ve played pretty well the last couple of days. “I’m hitting the ball a lot better than I did last week.”

Lee, 19, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., was a late addition to the Open field, finding out on the Sunday prior that she was getting in as an alternate. After finishing tied for second individually in the NCAA Championships, the Stanford sophomore paid the price at Shoal Creek. The long college season and the intensity of the postseason took its toll.

“I took a few days off before the Open because I didn’t think I was going to get in,” Lee said. “I think I was a little unprepared for the Open. It was a good chance to see where my game was. Being there and being able to learn from the pros is always a special opportunity. But coming into this week, I’ve been practicing and playing. I’m hitting fairways, hitting greens and hitting good putts. Hopefully, I can keep that going.”

Lee also will be hitting the books. Because Stanford is on the quarter system, school doesn’t end until next week, she purposely took a lighter academic load this quarter, taking classes in history, Japanese business and renewable energy.

“It’s the life of a student-athlete,” said Lee. “I’m hanging in there, barely. I have one final exam next Tuesday morning, and I have a final paper due Monday, and then I have a take-home final due Monday as well. So I'm trying to fit it all in there. But it’ll get done.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.