A Great Britain & Ireland team captained by England’s Elaine Ratcliffe heads into this week’s Curtis Cup at Conwy bidding to extend a sequence that has seen their predecessors win the previous two matches staged on home soil. A repeat of the victories at Nairn (2012) and Dun Laoghaire (2016) is a tall order against a formidable US team featuring the two top-ranked players in the world but something which former English Amateur champion and LET rookie of the year Ratcliffe believes is eminently achievable given the strength of her own side.
“It feels very doable,” she suggested as we chatted a couple of days before she travelled to the northern coast of Wales. “I can’t wait to get started. I have goosebumps just thinking about it and I know everybody else on the team feels the same.
“It has been a long time coming because of the (COVID-19 related) postponement last year but it was a bit like a gun going off when the team was announced last week and suddenly something which seemed distant has become very real.”
The team which Ratcliffe refers to comprises England’s Annabell Fuller (age 19), Charlotte Heath (19), Caley McGinty (20) and Emily Toy (23); Scotland’s Hannah Darling (18) and Louise Duncan (21); and Ireland’s Lauren Walsh (20) and Annabel Wilson (20). They are backed up by travelling reserves Hazel MacGarvie (21) of Scotland and Julie McCarthy (20) of Ireland. Fuller, Walsh and British women’s champion Duncan warmed up by making the cut in last week’s AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie with Duncan finishing T10 to win the Smyth Salver as the leading amateur in the field. All eight members of the squad have won at least one significant title since GB&I’s record loss at Quaker Ridge in the last Curtis Cup match in 2018. Some have won several more.
“I’m delighted with the eight and the two travelling reserves we’ve selected,” the GB&I captain said. “It has been a trying year or so with the postponement, but it has allowed some players to come through who have been playing very well.
“I’m fortunate to have a lot of winners on the team. Now it’s my job to help them to get as comfortable as possible and be ready to perform at their best when the match starts.”
“It feels like we do have a bit of home advantage and that will be helped by the fact there will be spectators there to watch.”
The pandemic seriously disrupted the golf schedule for well more than a year but the flipside is that it has enabled the GB&I side to get to know the rugged Conwy links rather better than they otherwise might have. When the Vagliano Trophy and the Europe Women’s Amateur were postponed earlier this year, Ratcliffe took advantage of those schedule openings by organising impromptu squad sessions at the host venue.
“We jumped at those opportunities when the Vagliano and the European Women’s were postponed so the players know the course better and won’t have to get acclimatised when we get there,” she said. “It feels like we do have a bit of home advantage and that will be helped by the fact there will be spectators there to watch.”
The postponement also enabled Ratcliffe to get to know her squad much better, which she believes is vital when it comes to performing her role as captain.
“They are a team but they are also individuals, too,” she said. “As captain, it’s important I get to know all of them, and it has been fun doing that, as I said in a letter to their parents recently. They have to be comfortable with you, they must know you believe in them, and that you’ve got their back. I think all good captains know that and they also know that sometimes some players need to be looked after differently than others.
“Some require an arm ’round their shoulders. Some need a bit more space than others and sometimes it’s better just to let them get on with the job. You only get to know who needs what when you get to know them. The two impromptu training sessions this summer helped with that and they also helped us to bond as a team.”
Ratcliffe learned many of her captaincy skills from watching and listening to Ita Butler, her captain in the winning Curtis Cup team at Killarney in 1996 when, incidentally, she beat 2021 US captain Sarah Ingram in the second singles. Subsequently, after leaving the professional ranks and rejoining the amateur fold, she has honed them captaining England at the Home Internationals and the European Team Championship, Great Britain in the Vagliano Trophy and Astor Trophy and Europe in two Patsy Hankins Trophy matches against Asia-Pacific.
“I have enjoyed every moment of it,” she confirmed. “I love the competitiveness, the team element, and watching good golf. It also brings back a lot of great memories of when I was playing myself.
“I’ve had some wonderful weeks,” she added, “but I can’t help but think captaining this Curtis Cup team will top the lot. It’s a strange one at the moment, because it has been so long in the offing. But, once we get to Conwy, the atmosphere will be electric because it’s the biggest test, the biggest arena we perform in in team amateur golf.
“I’ll be nervous, without a shadow of doubt we’ll all be nervous, but I also think there will be a calmness there because I know my team can play and know they can play to a standard required to win the Curtis Cup.”
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