SCARSDALE, N.Y. — Yes, winning begets winning, but this was ridiculous.
Eight talented American golfers played eight talented golfers from Great Britain and Ireland in the third and last day of the Curtis Cup on Sunday and the eight talented American women won each match. Quaker Ridge, the spectacular venue, had never seen anything like it. The Curtis Cup had never seen anything like it. Amateur golf had never seen anything like it.
If the outcome of each match was a 50-50 proposition, the chances of one team winning all eight matches is one in 128. Virginia Derby Grimes, captain of the U.S. team — which won this 40th Curtis Cup by a record-breaking margin (17-3) — is heading home to Alabama on Monday. Alabama has no state lottery. She might consider playing New York’s Lotto before she heads south.
Before she left, Grimes was asked what advice she would give to Jim Furyk, who will captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team in September. “Tell the players to be patient on the greens,” she said.
Grimes has a formidable match-play record herself, and now she has been at the helm of one of the most dominating teams golf has ever seen, so you could likely take her words anywhere, including Paris and the bank. When you think about it, Tiger Woods’s amateur career was all about patience on the greens. Sooner or later — and often later — the better putter wears the other person out.
It’s some insight, really. Of course, the insight only works if you have the gift of putting. Tom Watson has said for years there’s only one reason the Europeans have been so dominant in Ryder Cup play for the past two decades: better putting. As greens have become faster over the past 40 years, putting has only become a more significant part of the game, at every level. But especially in match play.
You could argue, successfully, that not every match is a 50-50 proposition. But it was only two years ago that GBI, in a home game, went home with the elegant bowl that is the Curtis Cup. The Quaker Ridge greens were firm carpets of pale green, a poster child for Northeastern Upper Crust Country-Club Golf. Any pure role would absolutely hold its line, and American putts were falling like bullets in the final act of “Butch Cassidy and the Sunset Kid.”
Lilia Vu, in Sunday’s second match, came to 18 one up. If she missed and her GBI opponent, Sophie Lamb, made, the day would not have been an American shutout. Her local caddie, Jose Contreras — yes, like the Cuban right-hander — gave his boss-for-the-week an aggressive read, knowing by the third day she likes to gun it. She did, from 25 feet. Had it missed, it would have gone 10 feet past the hole. It was nothing but net and when Lamb missed Vu had won, 2 up. It was that kind of day.
“She trusts,” the caddie said. “She trusts.”
The player said, “That putt was the cherry on the bomb.”
These eight women and their captain will be bonded forever by the stunning golf they played before a few hundred fans on one of the classic examples of Golden Age course design. (A.W. Tillinghast lives!) The members of the 2007 Walker Cup team — including Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson and Billy Horschel, with Buddy Marucci conducting — can tell the ladies what that’s all about. But this event is meaningful way beyond that. This event was pure, pure golf. There’s something about team amateur golf — at the high school level, the collegiate level and especially at the USGA/R&A level — that serves as a powerful reminder of the timeless grace of the game.
Quaker Ridge was founded more than 100 years ago by wealthy German Jews who were not welcome at the neighboring clubs, including Winged Foot. It was a different time. The club still represents a tremendous congregation of wealth, but is no longer defined by the religion of its founders.
On Sunday, there were three girls in the gallery who are learning the game through the First Tee of Nassau County. They were watching the NCAA individual champion, Jennifer Kupcho, trying not to smile with satisfaction after drilling a tee shot on the par-4 17th. Erin Gutierrez, 14, a student at New York’s LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts — you’ve seen “Fame,” right? — doesn’t imagine herself hitting shots like that anytime soon. She’s looking to break 100 first. But a girl can dream, right?
Kupcho was asked later if the American team ever even discussed the possibility of going 8-0 on Sunday. It would be an odd thing, like asking a starting pitcher is he planned to pitch a perfect game. Even if you thought it, you wouldn’t admit it. “Our plan was to make every hole count, make every swing count, make every putt count,” she said. Same as it ever was. There’s a reason why the Sunday-night winners have been telling Peter Kostis for decades now some form of, “Just trying to play one shot at a time.” It works.
This Curtis Cup was mellow, at a time when golf could use a little more mellow. Everything seems so overheated these days. There was no lusty cheer when the Americans got over the 10.5 point mark, meaning they would take possession of the cup. For that to happen, you need numerous scoreboards, updated instantaneously, and across-the-course TV coverage, and frothing fans, desperate to know. Asked about the absence of a victory cheer, a USGA official said, “I don’t think they knew.”
And that sentiment hints at why the event was special, why it will be a major event in the lives of the winners for the rest of their lives, just as Byron Nelson considered his win in the 1936 Met Open at Quaker Ridge his first major.
When it was over, players were posing for phone snaps with each other, with their parents, with each other, with their caddies. Fifteen-year-old Lucy Li and Andrea Lee, a rising junior at Stanford, were urged to look at each other while their teammates clicked. “I can’t!” Lucy said. They were both laughing.
There were four Curtis Cup flags planted on the outer edge of the 18th green and proud members, who gave up their course for a week for these women, standing beside them. A member of a certain age, John Pomerantz, resplendent in a vertically striped sweater and shiny black loafers, was asked about the sacrifice. “It’s our pleasure,” he said. You barely noticed the silver sky spitting intermittent rain.
Another member, Steve Shane, said about the same thing: “This is what you do. It’s part of our obligation to golf.” Bravo, sir. In four years, after the 2020 playing in Wales, the Curtis Cup will be played at Merion.
Tillinghast worked a couple miles down the road from Quaker Ridge, at the two brutish courses at Winged Foot, where Donald Trump is a longtime member. Beth Post, the co-chair of the event and a Quaker Ridge member, hinted at Trump and the tweeting noise coming out of the G7 conference in her pitch-perfect closing remarks. She reminded the players and fans and family members in attendance that the Curtis Cup was about bringing golfing friends together in a spirited competition. She cited George W. Bush, in his remarks to the country and the world in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, when he said that “America has no greater friend than Great Britain.”
The mishigas of Quebec seemed a thousand miles away. Tinny piped-sound piano solos of three anthems were played and three flags were lowered. Pizza was served in the clubhouse. A good time was had by all, even by the eight GBI players. For any of them, these three days may be the highlight of their golfing careers. Or not. Either way, they get to keep the blazers and the memories.