Singular American Success
Simple question: why do American golfers seem so much better than British and Irish players in singles match play in Curtis and Walker Cups?
How many of us automatically expected the United States to win the 41st Curtis Cup at Conwy Golf Club yesterday when they entered the crucial final singles session all square with their Great Britain & Ireland counterparts at six points apiece. I certainly expected the U.S. to win the final session, even if I was hoping GB&I would prove me wrong. No surprise that the visitors won the session 6 ½ – 1 ½ to make the match result 12 ½ – 7 ½.
“We all knew we only had to win four to retain but that wasn't our goal,” said Rachel Kuehn (pictured above with U.S. captain Sarah Ingram), who earned America’s winning point. “Our goal was to go out and to win eight singles matches. The more we can win, the less pressure is on the girls coming in. Just one more point you can put up for your country, it's a huge deal."
It’s hard not to feel sorry for GB&I captain Elaine Ratcliffe and her eight players, especially after emerging from the opening day with a 4 ½ – 1 ½ lead.
“I think after the first day they got pretty fired up and realised that they needed to buckle down and play well,” U.S. captain Sarah Ingram said. “They just carried it over to today.”
Ingram’s eight players certainly did that, reversing the first day’s score on day two to enter the singles all square.
As I noted in my preview story, the U.S. came into this match a much stronger team on paper, a side that included the number one and two players in women’s amateur golf in Rose Zhang and Rachel Heck. Golf matches obviously aren’t played on paper, but on Conwy’s links the U.S. team was just too strong for players weaned on links and match play golf.
As recent history shows, American Curtis and Walker Cup teams are usually stronger in singles play than GB&I. Since 2008, when fourballs were introduced to the Curtis Cup format and only one singles session is played (previously the format was foursomes/singles over two days) American teams have only lost two singles sessions.
GB&I won the final session 5-3 at Nairn in 2012, when Tegwen Matthews’ team staged a comeback to win the trophy. Matthews’ team won the 2014 singles 4 ½ – 3 ½, but it was too little too late. The U.S. entered the final frame needing just a half point to retain the cup, and one point to win it.
In the previous seven matches, U.S. players have won 32 points in singles play against 19 losses and four halves. The last two matches haven’t even been close in head to head play. The U.S. romped to an 8-0 singles victory three years ago at Quaker Ridge for a 17-3 win.
The same dynamic plays out in Walker Cups. Since 2009, when all 10 players were allowed to play in the final singles session, American teams have won six and lost just one final session (2015). Those in red, white and blue hold a 39-21-9 won, lost and drawn advantage.
As you would expect, Ratcliffe said all the right things in defeat:
“We fought hard, that's what we came here to do and we certainly did that. I'm very proud of all the players and the manner in which they played and in which they do everything. It's been a phenomenal three days. Highs and lows. We could have just done with a couple of more highs today.”
Her team could have done with a lot more highs in the final session. England’s Caley McGinty was the only GB&I player to earn a full point; she defeated Gina Kim 4&3. Scotland’s Hannah Darling was the only other GB&I player to go undefeated. She halved with U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Jensen Castle despite holding a three-up advantage with four to play. Unfortunately, Darling just couldn’t close out the match.
She’s not alone: many GB&I Curtis and Walker Cup players in recent years have failed to close out matches too.
P.S. Lest anyone perceive me as being “negative,” I’m not trying to be: just asking a question that’s been nagging at me for a long time of covering both matches. It’s a real headscratcher. Answers on a postcard please.
#JustSaying: “It's been one of the best weeks of my life with the team morale.” Caley McGinty
Photograph courtesy of the R&A