After securing just a half point in the morning foursomes Sunday at Pacific Dunes, USA players retreated rather indifferently to their lounge area for the break.
One player plopped a movie in the DVD machine. Another read, some ate and one even napped.
“Everyone seemed to be pretty positive about it,” said 23-year-old Paige Mackenzie of Yakima, Wash., whose brother Brock played on the 2003 USA Walker Cup team.
“They were quiet,” said USA captain Carol Semple Thompson.
Not exactly the reaction one would expect with the Great Britain & Ireland squad squarely putting the USA in its crosshairs. But Semple Thompson gushed all week about how low maintenance her players were, even boasting of their strong mental fortitude on the golf course. As it turned out, Semple Thompson was right as the USA retained The Women’s International Cup after winning the 34th Curtis Cup Match, 11½ to 6 ½, at Pacific Dunes, part of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The victory marked its fifth consecutive triumph. The USA’s overall record improved to 25-6-3.
Maybe the USA remained serene because only three times in the history of the matches has the opposing team come back to win after trailing after the first day. The last time that was done in 1968, by the USA.
The USA did drop the first two singles matches but won the final four. “I thought we could do it, even though we were between a rock and a hard place today,” said Martina Gillen, a member of the GB&I squad.
Entering the afternoon, a non-plussed Semple Thompson leaned toward instinct in using four of the same six players in singles. Nineteen-year-old Taylor Leon of Dallas, Texas, moved the USA within a half point of at least retaining a share of the cup by rolling over 22-year-old Englishwoman Naomi Edwards, 5 and 4. Leon trailed by two holes after four before reeling off seven straight wins.
When Leon knocked the ball within 2 feet of the hole on the par-3 11th, a wry smile colored a disbelieving Edwards’ face as she walked on the green.
With 42-year-old Virginia Derby Grimes (0-1) of Meridian, Miss., and Amanda McCurdy (0-1), 22, of El Dorado, Ark., losing their matches to Gillen (1-1), 24, of Ireland and 18-year-old Breanne Loucks (2-0) of Wales, respectively, the USA was bolstered by Leon’s victory.
“It’s great and so exciting that I could help the team out,” said Leon.
Jennie Lee of Henderson, Nev., clinched the win against Melissa Reid, 18, of England, on the 16th hole. Lee was one of the four USA players to play both days in singles; all four went 2-0.
Reid had too much club on her approach shot, the ball feeding into a perilous back bunker. Lee ran her 35-foot putt close to the hole, forcing Reid into a must-make situation from 25 feet. When Reid yanked the putt, most of the USA lineup bolted onto the green and smothered Lee with a group hug. Two were missing – Mackenzie and Jane Park, 19, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., were still busy closing out their victories.
Lee, a 19-year-old soon-to-be sophomore at Duke University, led the Blue Devils to an NCAA title this year. She was asked afterward which title she cherished more.
“Don’t make me do this,” she said off the 16th green. “Just the fact I’m here with the team …. The fact it’s a team victory means a lot more.”
She knew she had a chance to seal things.
“I did, I did,” she said. “Just walking up the 16th fairway I knew that the USA was close to winning. And then I forgot after we finished 16, and then I was going, ‘Wait, eight and a half plus my match is nine and a half. So it just hit me. I had to double check with Jenny Suh and I was like, ‘Wow, we won.’”
On the flip side, GB&I captain Ada O’Sullivan sensed things were slipping away as the final four matches made the turn. Even though GB&I came out aggressively, unlike the first day, it couldn’t sustain its thrust.
“Up until then, we were looking good,” said O’Sullivan, whose affiliation with the team ends after five years. “It went swinging toward the USA after that.
“We didn’t think it was impossible to win five of six points in the afternoon. The team was absolutely superb. It’s indescribable how proud of them I am.”
Semple Thompson, who holds the record for most appearances as a player in the Curtis Cup with 12, solidifies her place as a winner in another spectrum, that as captain. She hinted that she’d clear her calendar if chosen to captain the 2008 lineup at St. Andrews.
Asked whether which side she preferred more – as player or captain – Semple Thompson paused.
“It was a little less exhausting,” she said. “But I think it was a lot harder as captain because you could feel everyone’s pain.”
Even that of the GB&I team.