The USA might dominate the Curtis Cup in the history books but given the venue and the battling qualities of both sides it may all come down to a putting contest.
At least that’s the view of US captain Robin Burke, who is married to 93-year old US Ryder Cup legend and two time major winner, Jack Burke Jnr.
While she concedes the home crowd of around 5,000 will be a big challenge for her young team — their average age is 18 — Burke believes there is so little between the sides that putting will be the key on the pristine parkland greens of Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.
“As one wise man once said, the trophy is given away on the putting green, not on the fairway,” she said. “So it all comes down to who is making the putts because these girls all hit it very well. It just happened to be Jack Burke who said that.”
Burke’s husband might be 40 years her senior but the founder of the Champions Club in Houston has a rough Texas charm she found irresistible when she went to him for a putting lesson.
If she’s even half as forceful a character as her husband, her opposite number, Elaine Farquharson-Black has her work cut out getting the best out of an eight-strong GB&I side made up of three Irish and five English players.
Not that the Scot —a solicitor in charge of a team of close to 150 lawyers— is any shrinking violet herself.
A keen student of the management techniques of Paul Zinger and Paul McGinley, she knows that getting the best out of the Irish and the home crowd will be key and with world No 2 Leona Maguire from Slieve Russell, No 8 Olivia Mehaffey and Skerries’ Maria Dunne all playing well, she’s decided to play all three in the opening foursomes session.
Maguire suffered from vertigo during the recent NCAA Championships and didn’t take part in last Friday’s friendly match with Castle’s male Senior Cup team but the captain is unconcerned
“She’s absolutely fine,100 percent,” she said. “She’s playing very well too.”
Maguire will partner England’s Charlotte Thomas in the second of this morning’s three foursomes matches against Andrea Lee and Mika Liu on a 6,603-yard, par-72 course that both captains agree will be a test of long, straight hitting and nerveless putting.
The Co Cavan talent is one of three players in the eight-strong GB&I side with Curtis Cup experience alongside Thomas and UCLA star Bronte Law, who succeeded her this week as the winner of the prestigious Annika Award following three wins and eight top 10s in 10 starts this season.
US captain Burke has six of the world’s Top 20 with the “luck of the Irish” element covered by world No 1 Hannah O’Sullivan, whose grandmother, Ina O’Sullivan, is from Lattin, Co Tipperary, while her late grandfather was John L O’Sullivan hailed from Mount Fox in Kilmallock, Co Limerick.
“I am really excited to be in Ireland,” said O’Sullivan, who hails from Cupertino in California. “I have 50 relatives from all around Ireland coming out to watch.”
Ironically, O’Sullivan took over from Leona Maguire as world No 1 earlier this season and having seen the course, she feels more at home in Ireland than she expected.
“Thjs is honestly a course that I feel I have seen before,” she said of the lush parkland of Dun Laoghaire. “Every hole looks familiar to me. It’s going to be great for matchplay. We are in Ireland, but we feel we are at home as well. It’s long and the tough is thick but the biggest challenge is the greens.”
O’Sullivan will open hostilities alongside world No 6 Mariel Galdiano against Mehaffey and Law as Meghan MacLaren and Skerries star Dunne take on Bailey Tardy and Monica Vaughn.
At 33, Dunne is the oldest debutant since Ennis’ Tricia Mangan and having overcome back issues that almost forced her to give up the game in 2008, she’s up for the challenge.
“I was ready to finish in 2008 and 2009 but I didn’t want it to end like that,” said Dunne, who will have a 300-strong support crew from Skerries Golf Club. “Now that I’m here, I want to embrace it.”
Mehaffey has won six events in the last 14 months but none have given her more pleasure than this year’s wins following two months out with glandular fever in February and March.
She came back to win the Irish Women’s Open Strokeplay by eight shots and finish second in her defence of the Scottish Women’s before retaining the Welsh Women’s Open and then taking the irish Women’s Close at Lahinch.
“Glandular fever was bit of a rough ride,” said Mehaffey, who will head to Arizona State University at the end of the summer. “I was proper ill for a month and out for two months.”
She played with Paul McGinley in the Pro-Am at the recent BMW PGA at Wentworth and the 2014 European Ryder Cup skipper advised her to try and enjoy the occasion.
“He told me to embrace the whole thing, take it in and enjoy it. He said, ‘You are not going to get many more chances to play in an event like this in your home country.’”
GB&I require 10 1/2 points to regain the trophy with 20 points up for grabs over the next three days — three foursomes and fourball matches both today and tomorrow followed by eight singles on Sunday.
Curtis Cup matches, Dun Laoghaire Golf Club
Morning: Three foursomes (USA names first):
- (8.0) Hannah O’Sullivan & Mariel Galdiano v Bronte Law & Olivia Mehaffey
- (8.12) Andrea Lee & Mika Liu v Charlotte Thomas & Leona Maguire
- (8.24) Bailey Tardy & Monica Vaughn v Meghan MacLaren & Maria Dunne.
Afternoon: Three fourballs at 13.00, 1315 and 1330.