Late Entries Lee and Mehaffey Take Center Stage May 30, 2018 | Shoal Creek, Ala. By Joey Flyntz, USGA

Between the U.S. Women's Open, the Curtis Cup and final exams, Andrea Lee has quite a few weeks ahead of her. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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When the USGA announced the final five players into the field of the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open this week at Shoal Creek, two of those players shared something in common. For Andrea Lee and Olivia Mehaffey, the trip to Birmingham, Ala., is more of a welcome sojourn on a wild three-week trek than an end destination.

Both Lee, 19, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., and Mehaffey, 20, of Northern Ireland, got into the Women’s Open as alternates after competing in the NCAA Championship last week at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. Lee finished tied for second individually and led Stanford to the semifinals of team match play, while Mehaffey competed for defending national champion Arizona State.

Neither Lee nor Mehaffey will head back to the West Coast when they’re done at Shoal Creek. They will both board a plane to New York to compete in next week’s 40th Curtis Cup Match at Quaker Ridge Golf Club, Lee for the USA Team and Mehaffey for Great Britain and Ireland.

For her part, Lee, who is No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, is embracing the challenge.

“It’s definitely quite the experience and I’m grateful to have it,” said Lee, who is also mixing in time to study for final exams in two weeks. “It’s kind of a whirlwind, but it’s all really exciting. There’s nothing to be worried about. I'm just trying to have fun at each event. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The Curtis Cup Match, a biennial team event featuring eight-player teams of female amateur golfers from the USA and Great Britain & Ireland, is often considered the pinnacle of an amateur’s career. In fact, 27 of the 156 players at Shoal Creek competed in the prestigious competition – names such as Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis, Catriona Matthew, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie – as well as Lee and Mehaffey.

Lee and Mehaffey are each one of two returning players for their respective sides who competed in Great Britain & Ireland’s 11.5-8.5 victory in 2016 at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in Dublin, Ireland. Lee went 1-2-0 and Mehaffey went 2-1-1.

Both players are grateful for the opportunity to play again, with Mehaffey filling a new role this time around: veteran leader. At No. 20 in the WAGR, she is the most decorated player on the GB&I Team. Two years ago, it was easy to defer to stalwarts Leona Maguire and Bronte Law, two of the best amateurs in the world. This year’s team is more fresh-faced and facing the challenge of playing on foreign soil.

“I had such a great experience two years ago in Ireland. When I got the call that I made the [2018] team, I let the captain (Elaine Farquharson-Black) know I was ready to lead,” said Mehaffey, who would have been flying to New York yesterday to meet her teammates if she had not gotten into the Women’s Open. “It can be a scary thing. It’s a team event, everyone’s nervous and there’s a lot of media attention. When I played two years ago, Bronte was there for me and she really helped me. I feel like that’s my role now.”

Olivia Mehaffey is the lone Great Britain & Ireland Curtis Cup Team member competing at Shoal Creek this week. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Mehaffey will try to steer an inexperienced roster at Quaker Ridge, while Lee is one of the top players on a deep USA Team that includes three fellow competitors this week at Shoal Creek – Kristen Gillman, Lucy Li and Sophia Schubert – as well as Jennifer Kupcho, who edged Lee for the individual national championship last week at Karsten Creek. It will be easy to spot the USA quartet this week, as all are playing with their customized Curtis Cup golf bags.

While Lee is focused on competing in her second Women’s Open – she qualified four years ago at 15 and made the cut at Pinehurst No. 2 – there’s no doubt she’s looking forward to next week.

“I'm really excited. I’m so pumped we get to play on home soil,” said Lee. “The Curtis Cup is the pinnacle of amateur golf and there’s nothing better than representing your country. It’s a really special honor and hopefully we can win it back.”

Despite being outnumbered at Shoal Creek with next week’s intensity on the horizon, Mehaffey embodies the inscription on the Curtis Cup: To stimulate friendly rivalry among the women golfers of many lands. She could be seen doing so during a lengthy conversation on the practice putting green Tuesday with Gillman.

“We’re all really good friends off the course,” said Mehaffey. “We keep the golf on the golf course. Sportsmanship in the Curtis Cup has a really great legacy and that’s something we all try to keep up. The moment we step on the first tee, we all want to win, but after that, we’re all good friends.”

Just as Harriot and Margaret Curtis intended.

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org

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