A Ryder Cup without the noise: The Curtis Cup is golf at its purest

SCARSDALE, N.Y. — On the chance you need this primer:

You know about the Ryder Cup. You likely know that the Ryder Cup was modeled on a men’s amateur competition, the Walker Cup. As was the Curtis Cup, except it’s for women amateurs. Sam Ryder was a British seed merchant. George H. Walker was a president of the USGA. The Curtis Cup was named for two sisters, Harriot and Margaret, do-gooder Boston Brahmins, who were dominant figures in women’s amateur golf a century ago.

On this splendid Friday in June, and through the weekend, 16 of the spiritual descendants of the Curtis sisters — eight representing the United States, eight representing the Great Britain and Ireland — are competing for the Curtis Cup.

The youngest of the 16 players, and probably the best known, is 15-year-old Lucy Li, a born-and-raised Californian whose parents were born in China. Margaret Curtis would surely be amazed. She played in a U.S. Amateur at age 13 herself. Fox Sports is on the scene. Better yet, get yourself over to Quaker Ridge and enter a time warp.

But with various nods to modern living. The American players are wearing team-issued red, white and blue FootJoys that have fishing line (essentially) for laces that do not get tied but get tightened by a knob in the heelcap of the shoe. The USGA Twitter feed is providing regular updates. (Friday morning fourball, Friday afternoon alternate shot. Ditto for Saturday. Singles on Sunday.)

The players, those who have them, will take off their smart watches while playing. They provide too much information. You can’t use the compass on your watch in a USGA competition. Now there is something the Curtis sisters never had to worry about.

Lucy, who played in a U.S. Women’s Open at 11 and made the cut in that championship last week, gave me a tour of her Apple Watch in an interview Thursday afternoon. She showed off many photographs of her teammates and captain. Then I returned the favor.

“Have you ever heard of Timex?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.

I handed her my wash-and-wear timepiece.

“You know what it can do?” I asked.

“Tell time?” she said.

“Yes!” I said. “Do you know what I would do if I lost it?”

“Buy another one?”

“That’s right!”

She’s a smart, athletic home-schooled young lady who can hit a 5-iron 170 yards on a string, touch her palms on the ground effortlessly, speak Mandarin and tell you all about the work of Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. This is already her third national team. On Friday morning, she and Jennifer Kupcho batted leadoff for the Americans.

Midway through the first session on Friday, the scoreboard showed the U.S. with a slight lead. Over the three days, there are 20 points at stake, and GBI won the last playing, in 2016 in Ireland. The U.S. needs 10.5 points to get the Cup stateside again.

Kupcho, a Wake Forest golfer who won the NCAA individual title last month, is 20, so she, like most everyone else in Lucy’s golf orbit, is an elder. Lucy’s favorite female golfer, or one of them, is Danielle Kang, winner of last year’s Women’s PGA Championship and, like Lucy, a San Franciscan.

“She’s so funny,” Lucy said. “Not like tell-a-joke funny. Just funny.” Her favorite men’s player is … Webb Simpson. “When I tell people that, they’re like, ‘Why not Rory McIlroy? Why not Jordan Spieth?'” But who can explain such things? Simpson won the U.S. Open in 2012 at Olympic in San Francisco. But Lucy, nine then, wasn’t there. She thinks she was playing a tournament that weekend. Anyway, if you want someone to explain Simpson’s follow-through, Lucy is your go-to girl. “It’s low. Low follow-through. Then he raises his hands.” OK!

Lucy can also explain to you some of the rules differences between match play and stroke play, the point system for the Curtis Cup and the name of the president who had a green built on the White House lawn (Eisenhower). She cannot tell you if she will someday play college golf or professional golf or anything in the far-off future. The reason for that is not because she does not think about such things. She does, now and again. But she wasn’t thinking about such things on Thursday, and she will not be thinking about such things today or this weekend.

She’s thinking about the 10.5 points the U.S. team, under the leadership of its captain, Derby Grimes, needs to get its hands on the cup named for the Curtis sisters, a cup that Joyce Wethered and Glenna Collett Vare and Laura Davies and Nancy Lopez and other legends have tussled over before her. What’s happening right now at Quaker Ridge is golf at its best. The Curtis golfers aren’t trying to sell you something. They aren’t putting on a show. They’re just trying to play the best golf they can, for themselves and their countries. Same as the Ryder Cuppers, without all the noise.

Oh, and admission is free.

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