SCARSDALE, NEW YORK | The depth of U.S. women’s amateur golf was on full display during the first day of the 40th Curtis Cup Match. Captain Virginia Derby Grimes’ American team ended the day leading, 4-2, winning one of the morning four-ball matches and halving the other two. Then the Americans won two of the three afternoon foursomes matches.
The best performers for the U.S. were Kristen Gillman and Lillia Vu, who contributed to three of their team’s four points. The pair went out together in four-ball and closed out Alice Hewson and Lily May Humphreys, 4 and 3. Then in foursomes, they split up. Vu partnered with Women’s NCAA individual champion Jennifer Kupcho to beat Hewson and India Clyburn, 2 up, while Gillman paired with Alabama teammate Lauren Stephenson to put on the show of the day, a 4-and-2 takedown of Humphreys and Paula Grant in a match that included nine birdies in 16 holes, an almost unheard of performance in alternate shot.
Gillman and Stephenson, with their coach Mic Potter walking every step, could have beaten anyone. The Alabama duo shot 5 under in foursomes with one 3-putt bogey.
“We gave ourselves a lot of good looks,” Stephenson said. “I didn’t have to putt for the first seven holes. Kristen made a lot of great putts for birdie. Then I made a couple of good putts on the back nine … We know each other’s games really well and have very similar games, which allows us to give each other good looks at birdies.”
Gillman and Stephenson have known each other since junior golf but they were never friends before they became college teammates and never played as partners before this week. They weren’t even recruited together. Stephenson was originally at Clemson before transferring to Tuscaloosa.
“I felt like it was a natural pairing,” Grimes said of Gillman and Stephenson. “Just being around them, they just complement each other. I saw that from the beginning.”
“Any time you can play match play, whether it’s a win or a loss, you’re learning,” Stephenson said. “I think we learned a lot from (NCAA) nationals.” The Crimson Tide lost in the finals to Arizona. “It’s sucky to lose. You come away from that with more fire. I think we both want to get as many points this week for our team as we can.”
The bright spot for the GB&I squad was the pairing of Olivia Mehaffey and Sophie Lamb. In the morning, Mehaffey, a 20-year-old Northern Irelander and rising junior at Arizona State who was on the victorious GB&I team in 2016, had a terrible front nine in her four-ball match against Kupcho and Lucy Li. The Americans were 3 up through 12 and appeared poised to put the first U.S. point on the board. But something clicked in Mehaffey midway through the back nine.
“I played so miserably on the front nine that I had a little talking to myself about how I need to be a leader,” Mehaffey said. “I think I might have put a bit too much pressure on myself. But on the back nine I calmed down and started playing better and I was like, ‘Ok, then, let’s make a match of it.’”
They did better than that, winning with birdies on 13, 15 and 17, the last coming with Mehaffey almost holing a wedge from the light rough from 128 yards. Mehaffey had a putt to win the morning match outright but left it just below the hole.
That momentum carried over into the afternoon where the Mehaffey/Lamb duo trounced Mariel Galdiano and Andrea Lee, 3 and 2, in a match that was never that close.
“We felt really comfortable once we got that 1-up lead, and it didn’t really look like it (was) changing at any stage,” Mehaffey said. “I think we just got on a nice run. Even when we lost one we managed to get one back. It just felt like we were quite comfortable out there with our lead.”
Grimes is also comfortable with her team’s overall lead after day one.
“I would say we ended up with a good day,” the U.S. captain said. “Hung in there in the foursome matches, and to get two points, I can’t fuss too much.”