Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. – If the 2010 Curtis Cup Match were being played in Minnesota, California or even in her adopted home state of Pennsylvania, USA captain Noreen Mohler might have reason to be nervous six weeks prior to the biennial competition.
But as she casually talked with media members in the elegant clubhouse at Essex County Club on April 29, Mohler looked completely at ease.
Or more appropriately, she felt right at home.
After all, Massachusetts – specifically the Boston suburb of Woburn – is home. That is where the now 56-year-old Mohler honed her skills to become one of the Commonwealth’s great female amateur golfers, winning three Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts Amateur titles (1973, 1980 and 1981). She also advanced to the semifinals of the 1975 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she lost to eventual winner Beth Daniel in 19 holes, which led to her being named to the victorious 1978 USA Curtis Cup Team.
So despite being charged with leading eight of America’s best female amateurs against Great Britain and Ireland June 11-13, Mohler isn’t worried.
But a little emotional? That’s a definitive yes.
At Curtis Cup media day, just like she did when USGA Women’s Committee member Martha Kirouac called in February of 2009 to deliver the news, Mohler cried while recalling the story of being named captain. Mohler has a passion for the game and its traditions, and she considers being selected to guide the USA Curtis Cup Team in her native state her greatest achievement.
It’s over the top, she said.
After receiving her captain’s manual from the USGA, Mohler discovered a few more things about being Curtis Cup captain.
I found out that the captain is always a former Curtis Cup player, said Mohler, the captain is an amateur golfer and someone who is still involved in golf. I fit those criteria. The fact that I am from Massachusetts probably helped me too.
Mohler, of course, doesn’t have to hit a single shot. Her charge will be to find the right combinations for foursomes (alternate shot) and four-ball (best-ball) matches the first two days and set a batting order for Sunday’s eight singles matches.
Pressure? The USA owns a six-match win streak, not having lost since 1996 in Killarney, Ireland. It’s the second-longest skein in the Match’s illustrious 78-year history. And Mohler certainly has been given a strong and powerful eight-woman squad, led by reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Jennifer Song and 15-year-old Alexis Thompson, the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion who is the youngest to ever qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open (12 in 2007).
They are young, said Mohler of the USA team that ranges in age from 15 to 20. But they are not young in experience. Golf is their life. They eat, sleep and drink golf. They are eager and excited to be here.
The same could be said for the captain, who will enjoy a special homecoming. Two of her three brothers, Dennis and Dan Friel, still reside in the Boston area. And the Easton, Pa., seafood restaurant Mohler owns with husband, Jeff, is named for a popular seaside Massachusetts town (Marblehead).
Plenty of friends and family likely will be attending the festivities, which kick off with a team practice session May 23-25 at Essex County Club. During those three days, Mohler will begin to formulate possible team combinations, although Song has a prior commitment in Korea and won’t be in attendance. Mohler has been assured that the University of Southern California sophomore, who is turning pro after the Match, will be focused and ready come June 6 when the team returns to Essex for the Match.
Then on May 27, Mohler will fulfill a dream by throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park prior to the Boston Red Sox’s game with Kansas City. The idea was the brainchild of Curtis Cup General Chairman Bill Van Faasen. When he approached Mohler with the proposal, the captain was overwhelmed.
I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, said Mohler. I live in Phillie country and [New York] Yankee country, so it’s a little hard to put up with those teams.
If Mohler isn’t concerned about her team, she’s definitely nervous about not embarrassing herself in front of a packed house at Fenway. Mohler’s stepson has already told her that ESPN puts together an end-of-season highlight package of ceremonial first pitches that aren’t efficiently executed.
I don’t want to be on You Tube or anything like that, joked Mohler. I’m nervous because I’ll be out there by myself. I said to my husband that I get one pitch.
The Red Sox won’t give Mohler a mulligan if she misses. To ensure perfect execution, Mohler has been preparing diligently as if it were a golf competition. Even a neighbor noticed the bizarre scene of Mohler throwing a baseball in the front yard with her husband. She got a warning from her son Brendan, who is now in college but whom she coached two years in Little League.
The first thing [Brendan] said to me was, ‘Mom, you can’t go out there and throw like a girl.’ I won’t do that.
When asked if she had contacted past Curtis Cup player and current LPGA Tour star Paula Creamer, who threw out the first pitch at a Philadelphia Phillies game last July before the U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Mohler’s adopted hometown of Bethlehem, Pa., Mohler said she had not. However, she said she had noticed this past April that President Barack Obama struggled with his pitch at the Washington Nationals’ home opener.
Mohler hopes that she can have one particular Red Sox player catch her pitch, however well she delivers it.
From what I understand, you get to choose who you want to throw the pitch to, said Mohler. So I thought the captain should throw to the captain. So I am hoping Jason Varitek is available.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.