ST. LOUIS – If those who live near St. Louis Country Club were hoping to sleep in this morning, the beginning of the 38th Curtis Cup Match probably forced a change of plans.
That’s because the voices of numerous Great Britain & Ireland fans rang out in the morning on the first tee, serenading their team members with the same Curtis Cup Song – penned to the tune of A Long Way to Tipperary – they sang two years ago in Scotland when GB&I captured the Cup.
We have a passion for the Curtis Cup, said Maureen Lockett, a past president of the Scotland-based Ladies Golf Union, which along with the USGA conducts the biennial Curtis Cup Match. We’re here to see old friends and to support the amateur side of golf.
Lockett, who attended her first Curtis Cup in 1960, along with her GB&I compatriots, waved flags and sang along as the players filed onto the first tee for the opening four-ball matches. Players from both teams arrived with their nations’ flags painted on their faces and American and GB&I team supporters cheered as USA Captain and St. Louis resident Ellen Port embraced GB&I’s captain, Tegwen Matthews.
Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow teed off at 8 a.m. CT sharp. Meadow, who earned the winning point for the 2012 GB&I team and is a former collegian at the University of Alabama, took a deep breath, looked down her line and calmly striped the first drive down the middle of the fairway.
One by one, the rest of the morning’s competitors stepped up to the tee, battled their nerves and took aim. A gallery followed and the GB&I songs began again in earnest.
Former USA Curtis Cup players Kellee Booth and her mom Jane (Bastanchury) Booth were among the supporters of the Americans gathered near the first tee. Booth, who now lives in Texas, and her mom and dad, who live in Florida, made the trip for many reasons.
I’m here to see old friends and to renew those friendships with a lot of the players, not only from our teams, but also from GB&I, said Kellee, who played for the USA Team in 1996 in Ireland and in 1998 in Minnesota. I wanted to come back and support something that was such a big part of my amateur career.
The format of the Curtis Cup Match has changed since the years when Kellee and Jane Booth each played. During their tenure, the format featured two days of competition in only foursomes (alternate shot) and singles. A third day of competition, including the four-ball format, was added in 2008 in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Now, there’s another day and more to watch, said Jane Booth, who played on the Curtis Cup teams in 1970, 1972 and 1974, and served as captain in 2000.
While past players and captains mingled near the first tee and parents, coaches and fans walked the rolling, tree-lined fairways, Nicky Robinson was carefully noting every little detail. Visiting St. Louis from Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in Dublin, Ireland, host site of the 2016 Curtis Cup, Robinson sang and clapped, but also took time to absorb tips for making Dublin a great host city in two years.
The tradition of the Curtis Cup is very strong and it seems to be in people’s hearts forever, said Robinson. I’ve never been involved as a player or as a parent, but once you have tasted the Curtis Cup, you want more and you realize it’s about good will for both teams. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which team you’re supporting. The Curtis Cup is the winner.
The joy was evident on the faces of two proud moms who followed their daughters on Team USA. Young Hee Park, mother of Annie Park, walked the course wearing red, white and blue with small American flags stuck in her visor. She handed out more American flags to Team USA fans and whenever the Americans won a point or hit a solid shot, she rang a small red cowbell.
I am very proud of her, said Park, a native of South Korea whose daughter is a first-generation American from New York. She’s not nervous, just excited.
Park was paired with Ally McDonald in the third four-ball match. Interestingly, Park lost to McDonald in the quarterfinal round of the 2013 North & South Women’s Amateur Championship and the two have been friends ever since.
After that match, it started a bond and now they are playing on the same team, said Angie McDonald, Ally’s mother. She came over and gave us a hug this morning and I could tell she’s having a ball.
Also enjoying the Curtis Cup atmosphere and being able to spectate were several college coaches of team members.
Coach Andrea Gaston of the University of Southern California bounced back and forth between watching the morning matches of her Trojans – Kyung Kim, who played with Alison Lee in the second match, and Annie Park in the third match. Her past USC Curtis Cup competitors were Jennifer Song in 2010 and Lisa McCloskey in 2012, both playing for Team USA.
We’ve never had two players in the Curtis Cup at the same time, so I’m really excited this year, said Gaston. It’s meant the world to both of them to make the team because they knew what an honor it would be to play for their country.
Alabama Coach Mic Potter benefited from the pairing of his two Crimson Tide players in the same group, albeit facing each other.
It’s either easy or really hard, depending on how you look at it, said Potter, who walked the course to watch the match between Alabama players Stephanie Meadow of GB&I and Emma Talley of Team USA. It’s easy to watch both of them, but it’s hard to choose sides, which I can’t do. I just cheer for both of them to hit the best shots they can.
Players who sat out of the morning matches were allowed to practice or to follow and cheer for their teammates. Several holes behind the last group, GB&I players Eilidh Briggs, of Scotland, and Gabriella Cowley, of England, played several holes in preparation for the afternoon foursomes session.
In their first Curtis Cup appearances, the two admitted they were warming up on the holes to get some of the nerves out.
By morning’s end, however, their team was down 3-0 and the pressure was mounting. Both knew they needed to perform for GB&I in the afternoon.
Obviously, I’ll be nervous on the first tee, but this helps, added Briggs.
And when asked how it felt to hear her name in a song by GB&I supporters on the first tee earlier today, Cowley admitted, It makes you feel proud and ready to go.
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.