Curtis Cup Captaincy Rekindles Burke’s Own Game September 13, 2016 | Erie, Pa. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Robin Burke has been receiving encouragement from the players she captained in the Curtis Cup Match. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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When Robin Burke took on the role as captain for the 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team, she and her players developed a camaraderie that continues to thrive in their group texts and mutual encouragement. But something else transpired as Burke guided her charges toward their narrow defeat in June to the Great Britain & Ireland Team.

“Watching them play got me excited about playing again,” said Burke, 53, who was the runner-up in the 1997 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “I decided to go home and work on my game and see if I can’t maybe get something going.”

Burke’s attempt to rekindle her talents is already bearing fruit. She shot stroke-play rounds of 78-73 to earn the No. 9 seed in match play for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, then won her Round-of-64 match on Monday, 2 and 1, over Julie Streng, of Greensboro, N.C. She squared off against Maggie Leef, of Pewaukee, Wis., the No. 24 seed, on Tuesday morning.

“If I hadn’t putted extremely well, I would already be on a flight out of here,” said Burke on Monday after she eliminated Streng. “My ball-striking wasn’t good today. I’ll just keep working on my game to see if I can find that center. Right now, I’m definitely off-center.”

Burke was at the center of the USA’s 39th Curtis Cup effort in June, where she captained the youngest USA Team ever, with five 17-year-olds. They lost, 11½–8½ to the GB&I side, which included three veterans of previous matches, including current world No. 1 Leona McGuire and No. 2 Bronte Law.

Great Britain & Ireland captured all three four-ball matches on Day 2 of the Match to take a  commanding 8-4 lead, then thwarted the USA’s comeback bid in the Sunday singles to regain the Cup after losing it two years earlier in St. Louis.

“Our team played really well; they were just outplayed that second day,” said Burke, who hosted the team in March with her husband, Jack Burke, in March at Champions Golf Club, their club outside Houston. “Although the outcome obviously wasn’t what I hoped it would be, I told the girls that playing for their country would be a life-changing experience, and it was.”

Burke had played for the 1998 USA Team, which won at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, Minn. Her 2016 captaincy, which occurred at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club outside of Dublin, was a far different experience.

“I don’t want to say that they respect the game more – but they’re just into it over there,” said Burke of the crowds at Dun Laoghaire. “Thousands of people come out, and the energy is amazing. We have all kinds of sports going on [in the U.S.], but when you play golf there, everyone comes out to watch it. I wish we could have more of that in the States when we host it. It’s such an eye-opener to watch these girls play.”

As Burke competes at The Kahkwa Club, her players chime in to give her grief about her player profile photo (“I look like I’m praying,” said Burke), and encourage her efforts. “I’m proud of my team – they’re a tight-knit group,” said Burke, who is also competing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur on Sept. 17-22 at Wellesley Country Club outside Boston. “I swore I’d never do the USGA Senior because I hate to admit I’m a senior, but I’m gonna do it. Maybe I’ll get hot… you never know.”

Burke will soon be juggling her playing opportunities with hosting duties, as she and husband Burke, the Masters and PGA champion in 1956, prepare for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open on the Cypress Creek  course at Champions, which Burke and Jimmy Demaret opened in 1957 and which hosted the 1969 U.S. Open, won by Orville Moody.

“You can see the energy building for the women’s game – it’s going to be great timing to have the Women’s Open in 2020,” said Burke. “I told my team that I expected to see all of them back here competing in that. Who knows – their captain may even try to qualify. That would be awesome.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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