USA Makes Day 1 Statement at Merion, Leads GB&I 5-1
June 10, 2022 | Ardmore, Pa.
By David Shefter, USGA
The USA Team sent a resounding message on Friday, Day 1 of the 42nd Curtis Cup Match at Merion Golf Club. The Americans, seeking a third consecutive victory against Great Britain and Ireland in the biennial team competition, claimed five of the available six points, including a sweep of the afternoon foursomes (alternate-shot) matches, for an early advantage.
With three more four-ball and three foursomes matches scheduled for Saturday, and eight singles matches on Sunday, the USA needs five points to retain the Cup. GB&I needs 9½ points to regain the Cup and win for only the second time on foreign soil in a series that dates to 1932.
GB&I can take solace in the fact that it led the USA, 4½-1½, after Day 1 nine months ago at Conwy Golf Club in Wales, only to see the American side roar back for a five-point victory in a competition postponed one year due to COVID-19. That result is not lost on USA captain Sarah Ingram.
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“I was hoping for that [strong start]; I'm very happy about it,” said Ingram, who also guided the Americans last year. “We are definitely better positioned today than we were last year at the same time.”
Rachel Heck, of Memphis, Tenn., and Rachel Kuehn, of Asheville, N.C., were both part of that comeback, and the two college All-Americans, along with team rookie Amari Avery, of Riverside, Calif., each went 2-0 on a gorgeous day in suburban Philadelphia.
“I think we can learn from it,” said Kuehn. “Just because you're not winning doesn't mean it's over. Luckily, we’re on the flipside of it this year and leading after the first day, but I think we have got … to stay motivated, we've got to keep the pedal down, because if last year showed us anything it’s that you can come back, and we don't want to give GB&I that chance.”
“Obviously we're disappointed about the afternoon results, but we weren't in this position last year,” said GBI veteran Louise Duncan. “We're not feeling too disheartened and we're looking for a big day tomorrow and hopefully come back and make a good fight for the singles on Sunday.”
Leading 2-1 after the morning four-ball session, the Americans came out on fire after lunch in foursomes. Reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Jensen Castle, of West Columbia, S.C., and Latanna Stone, of Riverview, Fla., who both sat out the morning session, didn’t lose a hole in their 5-and-3 victory over the Scottish tandem of Duncan and Hannah Darling.
Jensen and Stone, standouts at the University of Kentucky and Louisiana State University, respectively, built a 3-up lead after five holes, then played even-par golf over the next 10 holes to close out their opponents.
“Jensen and I really weren’t worried about the lead,” said Stone. “We were just kind of shooting for a goal like 3 under as a team. So we just put that in the back of our mind.”
That victory set the tone for the afternoon.
Rose Zhang, of Irvine, Calif., and Heck, who helped Stanford win the NCAA title three weeks ago, overcame an early 2-hole deficit to beat Florida State teammates Charlotte Heath and Amelia Williamson, both of England, 4 and 2. Zhang, the No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking® and the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, avenged her Friday morning four-ball defeat, her first in six Curtis Cup matches.
“I feel like both Rachel and I were just very consistent and were really good at self-talk,” said Zhang when asked about the comeback. “We’ve played with each other so much that we know each other so well. We really made ourselves more aware of just trying to play the best we can and actually playing for each other. After we had a putt drop, we just kept that momentum going.”
Zhang and Heck took control of the match with three consecutive birdies from No. 7, going from 1 down to 2 up.
As far as birthdays go, Kuehn enjoyed her 21st on Friday. After gaining a point in the morning, the rising Wake Forest senior teamed with Avery, a rising sophomore at the University of Southern California, to defeat Caley McGinty and Emily Price, 3 and 2. The Americans never trailed, but when Price holed out from a greenside bunker for a winning birdie on No. 11, the USA only led by one hole. Winning pars on Nos. 12 and 13 put the USA side back in control.
For Friday’s opening four-ball session, Ratcliffe put out all six of her returnees from the 2021 Match, meaning rookies Williamson and Price would sit. Ingram, the USA captain, countered by playing four of her five returners – only Castle sat with Stone.
A big USA point came from rookies Avery and Megha Ganne, of Holmdel, N.J., who grabbed a 1-up lead on the first hole over Lauren Walsh and McGinty, at No. 10 in the WAGR, the highest ranked player on GB&I’s side, and never looked back in posting a 3-and-2 win. The two 18-year-olds played 3-under-par golf – with the usual match-play concessions – over 16 holes.
Kuehn and Heck provided the second point with a 1-up win over University of Florida standout Annabell Fuller and Darling. Neither side held more than a one-hole advantage, and Heck’s birdie on the 107-yard, par-3 13th provided the difference as the teams tied the final five holes.
GB&I avoided a session sweep when Heath, partnering with 2021 British Women’s Amateur champion Duncan, rolled in an 8-foot birdie on the 189-yard, 17th hole to secure a 2-and-1 win over Zhang and Emilia Migliaccio, of Cary, N.C. Although they played in last year’s Curtis Cup, Heath and Duncan had never been paired together. Ratcliffe had a hunch the two would gel in four-ball.
“We’re both very easy to get along with,” said Duncan, who tied for 10th in last year’s AIG Women’s British Open. “And we both played well.”
GB&I will need that kind of effort on Saturday to get back into this Match.
- USA Team member Rachel Kuehn was serenaded on the first tee with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” by her teammates, Captain Sarah Ingram and team manager Laura Nochta. Kuehn, whose mom, Brenda, played on a pair of Curtis Cup teams in the late 1990s, turned 21 on Thursday. Rachel and Brenda are one of two mother-daughter tandems to play in the Curtis Cup. The other is Jane Bastanchury Booth and Kellee Booth; Kellee went 2-0 in foursomes with Brenda in the 1998 Match at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis.
- Katie Lyth, who served as Rachel Heck’s caddie at Conwy Golf Club in Wales last August, made the trip to Merion with her father to watch this year’s Match. She was the only female caddie to work the 41st Curtis Cup.
- During their foursomes match, Americans Rose Zhang and Heck stayed loose by singing “Rewrite the Stars” by Zac Efron and “Let’s Get Down to Business” from the Disney movie “Mulan.”
- This is the first time since 2002 that UCLA does not have a competitor in the Curtis Cup.
- Ole Miss graduating senior Julia Johnson, who is No. 38 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®, is serving as an on-course reporter for Golf Channel. Johnson, of St. Gabriel, La., was invited to the Curtis Cup practice session in January.
- Two-time Great Britain & Ireland Curtis Cup competitor Karen Stupples, a Golf Channel regular, is serving as an on-course reporter this week. Stupples, a Florida State alum, played on the victorious 1996 side.
“The Americans played some great golf today. I don't feel that they left anything out there. Everything went in. They holed out beautifully. We saw chip-ins, we saw a number of things. But all credit to them; they're world-class golfers. We need to do the same thing tomorrow. We need to hole out well, execute our game plan, and actually, you know what, I wouldn't mind a few chip-ins.” – GB&I captain Elaine Ratcliffe
“GB&I, all the players are amazing. We can't second-guess their abilities to make a comeback. So we really have to step on that pedal and try to play well tomorrow to gain that momentum into singles. The tides can turn at any time, and as long as we are aware of that [unpredictable nature of match play] I'm sure we're going to be able to go out there and play our best tomorrow.” – Rose Zhang on the mindset for the USA Team
“I was telling [Megha] that I was a little jittery before I teed the ball in the ground, but once I got over it, all the nerves went away.” – Amari Avery after she and fellow Curtis Cup rookie Megha Ganne secured the first USA point with a 3-and-2 four-ball win
“I’ve been itching to play since the beginning of this week. I was really happy to be in the first set of [four-ball] matches. Can’t wait to cheer on the team this afternoon.” – Ganne on getting a chance to play after being an on-site alternate last August in Wales
“Just to keep our chins up, stay positive, stay patient, and just go out and enjoy ourselves and do what we do best. We're all here for a reason, and we know that we can do it, and we'll hopefully flip the tables tomorrow.” – Duncan on the message going into Saturday
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.