Barrington, R.I. – One of the most interested spectators at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rhode Island Country Club this week was Pat Cornett of California.
Cornett, 57, is the captain of the 2012 USA Curtis Cup team, which has yet to be selected. This week, she studied the players as avidly as a scout at an NFL tryout because, next June at Nairn (Scotland) Golf Club, the USA team faces a team from Great Britain & Ireland for the 37th time.
The Curtis Cup Matchis a friendly encounter that forms lifelong bonds but Cornett, like most top competitors, wants to win. Her competitive fire was fanned in a long, successful amateur career. She was runner-up in the 1987 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and won the 1990 Women’s Western Amateur. She played on the 1978 and 1988 USA Curtis Cup Teams. While she’s on the sidelines this week, Cornett did play in 20 Women’s Amateurs, so she knows what she’s talking about.
I’m not seeing a lot of creativity with the short game, she said Friday as she watched the matches. That’s one of the questions: Do you make the players learn the bump-and-run, or do you just introduce them to it?
The bump-and-run, a low chip played to bounce onto a green and run to the hole, is a mainstay in the brutal wind that sometimes buffets the British Isles. It’s less popular in the United States. Around the green, players here more often rely on a wedge and a lofted pitch shot.
Cornett believes the bump-and-run is a crucial shot in foul weather. As a member of the 1988 USA team that lost, 11-7, at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England, she watched GB&I players excel around the greens.
Cornett is at Rhode Island Country Club to judge how these players deal with what she calls the intangibles of match play. On a short par-4 hole, she watched one American college student play. The player was deep in the left rough, her ball at the bottom of a swale, hitting up to an elevated green. Her opponent was in the fairway.
These are the intangibles to me, how she handles it, Cornett said. Just think par.
The player hit a towering short-iron shot right at the flagstick. Well, birdie, Cornett chuckled.
Cornett lives with her husband Mike Iker and their two daughters in Mill Valley. She is an oncologist who works at the Veterans Administration hospital in San Francisco. Because of her career, it’s difficult to take time off.
Her employers, the federal and state government, have strict leave policies. Right now I have a couple of patients who are actually very sick and it’s a tough time to be away, Cornett said. That’s why I just made this a two-day trip. I’ll be back tonight, actually.
on watched another young American
play. Thinking again of the weather in Scotland, Cornett was encouraged by
what she saw. I’d like to see how many of them can hit a low shot, she said.
I get the sense that this player can do it.
Cornett approaches her role as captain just as she played golf: Try your hardest, play down the middle but don’t be afraid to use an innovative shot, use your head, swing away and, most of all, play to win. Her mind churns with ideas.
Communication is a big priority and Cornett is thinking about creating a Web site for her team.
I’ll be texting these players, she said. I use email an awful lot but they don’t. They text.
She wants her players to know the history of the Curtis Cup and its founders, Harriot and Margaret Curtis, who were sisters and social activists. She wants the players to be familiar with the backgrounds of officials from the Ladies Golf Union, Great Britain’s ruling body of women’s golf.
When they meet someone, I want them to know who they’re meeting, she said.
Cornett must also plan team practice sessions and prepare her own speeches. She’ll be required to give several. And there are the smaller worries, like the players’ rain gear.
There was a concern about the rain suits, she said. The Walker Cup Team is using them first. I heard that Jim Holtgrieve, our Walker Cup captain, jumped in the shower to try his out.
Cornett approaches all of it with earnest enthusiasm. During her two-day visit to the Women’s Amateur, she drummed up excitement about the match, even though it won’t be played until June 8-10, 2012, and drafted several willing volunteers to help her accomplish her goal.
Perhaps because of the seriousness of her career, for Cornett anything involving golf is a pleasure. I’m just having a blast being the Curtis Cup captain and watching wonderful play, wonderful golfers, she said. I suspect that that will change come June 2012 when there’s a lot of pressure in moments such as figuring out who to pair together in foursomes, but right now, it’s a lot of fun.
Competing as a player and serving as Curtis Cup captain are two entirely different roles. Which is best?
I had the great fun of being at the U.S. Women’s Open with Judy Bell (two-time Curtis Cup player and captain) out on the 15th hole and she got that twinkle in her eye and said, ‘Do you miss it?’ I started analyzing it and thinking about the pressure, and I asked her, ‘Do you?’ She said, ‘Of course. Yes.’
I think about the Women’s Amateurs I’ve played in and opportunities missed, yes, but I still get to play. I’ll have a USGA Senior Women’s Amateur qualifier next week and the Women’s Mid-Am the following week, so I’m still playing and I still enjoy the competition, but at my appropriate level, she said with a laugh.
This week she was one of the busiest people at Rhode Island Country Club, dashing from match to match to watch the competitors play.
Oh boy, they hit such wonderful shots and have such wonderful golf swings, it’s a pure joy to watch them play, she said. I’m having just a great time watching. They all play so very, very well. Great strikers of the ball. Just wonderful golf games, so it’s been a lot of fun to watch.
Cornett left the course, caught the shuttle to her hotel and then took a plane home to San Francisco, to her family and patients and her everyday life. Someone once said that the Curtis Cup Match is the best-kept secret in golf. But for Pat Cornett, it’s no secret that it’s a very big deal.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communicatons for the USGA. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.