Ask any member of the USA Curtis Cup Team what they will take away from this week's 10.5-9.5 defeat at The Nairn Golf Club, and the response is consistent: The memories of times spent on and off the course, and the friendships that were forged.
That’s good, because the Americans left the 37th Curtis Cup Match without what was most coveted — the silver Cup and an eighth consecutive victory, USA’s 28th overall.
"A lot of great memories," said Lindy Duncan, who went 1-3, including a 5-and-3 loss to Charley Hull in Sunday’s sixth singles match. "This is probably the funnest week I've ever had playing golf, and with such great people. So pretty much all positives."
Still … the eight women will wonder what might have been.
The Americans led 3-0 after Friday morning’s foursomes (alternate-shot) matches and went to bed Saturday night with a 6½-5½ lead, needing 3½ points on Sunday just to retain the Cup.
"I think we were the same every day going in," said Duncan. "We knew it was going to be tough. We were just trying to get something done early [on Sunday] and we didn’t."
Not for a lack of effort.
Nearly an hour into singles play, Holly Clyburn, of England, parred the par-4 third hole. At that moment, Great Britian & Ireland held its first lead of the seven matches underway. The U.S. was up in three and all square in the other three.
The Americans were seemingly in charge and Austin Ernst was at the point. Ernst, who won the 2010 NCAA Division I Women’s Championship as a freshman at Louisiana State University, went to Captain Pat Cornett on Saturday and requested the leadoff role.
"I wanted to set the pace and at the beginning of the match I was pretty much doing that. I played flawless golf for the first six holes," said Ernst, who was 3 up through the first six holes.
Kelly Tidy, of England, arguably GB&I’s best match-play player, rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt to win the 371-yard, par-5 seventh hole and had squared the match by the ninth.
"That just got me going," said Tidy. "It got me fired up and it let me know I could beat her. It's just that one little putt that can get a roll going."
Tidy won the 412-yard, par-4 12th en route to tying the Match at 6.5 points apiece with a 2-and-1 win over Ernst.
"That was huge for the rest of the girls to see and know that if I was 3 down through six and could come back, that so could they if they got down," said Tidy.
Minutes later on the same hole, Amy Boulden, of Wales, holed a 12-foot putt to defeat Emily Tubert, 3 and 1, to give GB&I its first lead of the three-day competition, 7½-6½.
When Clyburn closed out Erica Popson, 3 and 2, for GB&I’s third successive point within 15 minutes, the momentum and the crowds were swelling on the home side.
"They came out in full force and they love their team," said the USA's Amy Anderson of the announced 3,600 spectators on Sunday. "They were loud and it is hard to get momentum when they are pulling the other side up. At the same time we had the USA supporters who we knew were pulling for us."
Cornett said she kept reminding her players that they just needed four points in any form to secure the victory. But points in individual ball play were hard to come by. Of the possible 14 points available in four-ball (best-ball) and singles play, the Americans earned just 4½ points.
Lisa McCloskey (4 and 3), Tiffany Lua (2 up) and Brooke Pancake (6 and 5) were in control of their matches, but getting that final half-point was starting to fall on Anderson’s shoulders.
"I knew back on hole 12 that our match was going to matter, that I at least needed to pull out a half," said Anderson, who went out seventh in the order based on her U.S. Women’s Open experience from a year ago.
Anderson, the 2009 U.S. Girls' Junior champion, birdied the 12th and was 1 down to Stephanie Meadow, of Northern Ireland, but then conceded the 13th and lost the 15th and 16th holes to the University of Alabama standout.
The GB&I celebration was underway.
Meanwhile, the Americans huddled and hugged.
As the USA players milled about the 18th green in preparation for the closing ceremonies, they could not help but wonder what if. Anderson said that will be the case for nights and weeks to come.
But there were not a lot of tears being shed publicly by the Americans. They had put up a good fight, and there was plenty to remember.
"There have been highs and lows, as you can expect in an event like this," said Emily Tubert, the 2010 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links champion who just competed her sophomore year at the University of Arkansas. But it's something I know I'll remember forever — the friendships that were made, the time we got to spend with each other. There aren't seven other people I would have rather spent this week with. We came up one shot short."
Unfortunately, that’s a memory they will never shake.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on the USGA’s championship websites.