CURTIS CUP
Gillman Completes Perfect Week at Quaker Ridge June 10, 2018 | Scarsdale, N.Y. By Bill Fields

Kristen Gillman enjoyed a perfect week at Quaker Ridge, going 5-0 and clinching the winning point for the USA Team. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Kristen Gillman sized up her par putt on the 14th hole late Sunday afternoon at Quaker Ridge Golf Club with care. It was only 4 feet long, but in some ways four years in the making. She didn’t know how the scoreboard math in the 40th Curtis Cup Match was shaking out, that her singles match might be the decisive point, only that the USA was en route to a historic 17-3 victory over Great Britain and Ireland.

Gillman won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship when she was just 16 years old, putting her on a trajectory to likely be on the USA Curtis Cup Team two years later. En route to winning the Robert Cox Trophy, though, the Texan injured her right wrist hitting a bunker shot in a Round-of-16 match that week at Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y. It didn’t appear serious, and she went on to defeat future LPGA Tour major champion Brooke Henderson in the 36-hole final.

Months later, the pain worsened and eventually there was a diagnosis of a tear in the joint. Gillman avoided surgery but wore a cast to immobilize it. Her game suffered just as she reaped the fruits of major-championship invitations, thanks to her Women’s Amateur triumph.

When the 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team was chosen, Gillman’s name wasn’t called, only fueling her desire make the 2018 team.

“I felt that definitely motivated me,” Gillman said after defeating Annabell Fuller, 5 and 4, in Sunday Singles. “That’s been one of my main goals the last few years, making the Curtis Cup Team.  Whenever I didn’t feel like practicing, I always had that in the back of my mind. I kept grinding out there.”

Gillman, now 20 and a rising junior at the University of Alabama, did keep grinding – and winning – at Quaker Ridge, too. She went 5-0-0 in the Match, joining American Stacy Lewis (2008) and Bronte Law of GB&I (2016) as the only golfers to win in every session since the format was expanded to a three-day competition in 2008.

“The Curtis Cup was one of my best experiences as an amateur,” Lewis said Sunday from the LPGA Tour’s ShopRite Classic. “It was a little bit unexpected to go undefeated, but you’ve got to get a little bit lucky in match play, but you also have to play some pretty good golf. I was the first one to do it, and it’s cool to see girls who have come after me been able to do it, too. It shows some grit and determination and an ability to win. It’s definitely a huge accomplishment.”

USA captain Virginia Derby Grimes, who informed Gillman that she had been responsible for the clinching point after she defeated Fuller, saluted the Texan’s performance.

“It’s really rare, and she had it going,” Derby Grimes said. “I definitely wanted to keep putting her out there. She is very gritty; I like that. It’s good to see because she’s going to fight until the bitter end.”

Fuller, 15, the youngest member of the GB&I Team, got a dose of Gillman’s fortitude during their match on an overcast afternoon at Quaker Ridge.

On the par-3 fifth hole, Fuller hit her tee shot 3 feet from the flagstick and in good position to square the match. But Gillman rolled in a 30-footer for birdie to keep a 1-up lead. At No. 8, with a 3-up lead, Gillman shanked her wedge approach from thick rough, appearing to give Fuller an opening. She maintained her advantage, however, by halving the hole with a 7-foot par putt.

“I had a funky lie and told myself just don’t worry about [the shank],” Gillman said. “Just try to make par and keep playing the way you’ve been playing.”

Gillman’s parents, Mark and Laura, along with her paternal grandparents, Gary and Karen, were in her gallery as she joined a select group with an undefeated record. “I’m so proud of her,” Laura Gillman said. “Both her and all her teammates. They’ve just been outstanding. She has a lot of talent and determination – they all do.”

Sophia Schubert, the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, who led off the 8-0 singles sweep by the Americans, saluted Gillman’s patience. “It’s a lot of golf,” Schubert said. “She’s up there with great company. She’s a great player and a great person, and I was really happy she was the one to do that.”

Mic Potter, Gillman’s coach at Alabama, said the patience was nothing new, given how she had handled the wrist setback.

“The injury probably cost her a year when it was all said and done, being in a cast and taking time off,” Potter said of the No. 9 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “I felt badly for her after it happened, and she was a lot better than her performances. She wasn’t able to play her best for a while. But she’s always motivated. She has high expectations and her goals are pretty well set.”

Gillman came to the Curtis Cup off a solid performance in last week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek (T-27) and being part of Alabama’s runner-up team in the NCAA Division I Championships at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. She also was named a first-team All-American by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association of America.

“She’s really good at looking at 'This is what I did and what I could have done better, and having a plan,'” Potter said. “She always takes that away from a tournament. But she has to feel really good about herself here.”

As Gillman joined her teammates for celebratory photos, the dessert of a convincing victory, there was no doubt about that.

“It’s a challenging course,” she said. “You have to make sure you hit a lot of fairways and greens and put pressure on your opponent. I think I did that. It’s been so much fun. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls. I’ve had the best week of my life.”

The wait was worth it.

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.