ORLANDO – Olivia Mehaffey had one of the first flights out on Wednesday after the conclusion of the Arnold Palmer Cup. Naturally, she was the first to go out in singles on a crisp Florida morning.
But if you only need a limited number of points to retain, as the International squad did, why wouldn’t you want Mehaffey in the lead-off spot – early flight or not? Scan the whole Palmer Cup roster – you’d be hard-pressed to find a player with the kind of match-play chops and natural ability to lead that seems to come naturally to the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland.
“In Ireland they kind of tell me and on ASU, (head coach) Missy (Farr-Kaye) says OK you need to step up,” she said.
With more people on a Palmer Cup team – 24 total compared to an eight-woman Curtis Cup squad – Mehaffey may have had a bit less vocal role this week. Still, Alan Murray, head coach at Washington and one of the International team’s captains, sent Mehaffey a message before the singles matches, expressing just how grateful he was for her leadership on this team. Mehaffey screen-shotted it to keep.
Scores: Arnold Palmer Cup
Each squad set its lineup for singles, but the matches were shuffled a bit based on who was flying out when. With less than 48 hours to Christmas, it’s understandable.
Mehaffey, who owns a 5-3-2 record in two Curtis Cup appearances for Great Britain and Ireland, met firepower at the first tee in Rachel Kuehn, a player who won the North & South Amateur and Ladies National Golf Association Amateur. They fired at pins all morning, with Kuehn taking a one-up lead with a birdie at No. 7 and holding the advantage until Mehaffey eagled the par-5 16th. They ended up halving to start the day.
The fifth-year senior at Arizona State played three majors and three college events in 2020. It was an odd year for everyone. The Pac-12 is expected to play in the spring (after not competing in the fall), and even though COVID travel restrictions remain a possibility, Mehaffey decided at the last minute to return home to Northern Ireland for Christmas. Her dad hasn’t been well, and she wants to spend the time with family.
Ria Scott, Virginia’s head women’s golf coach, was one of the International team’s captains. She was surprised this week to learn how many of the players on her roster were months removed from their last trip home or visit with family. This was among the revelations of an intense bonding effort spear-headed by the coaches.
“You have players from all over the world who have grown up completely different culturally, who you would think would be harder to bond and yet, they seem to come together,” she said.
There was only so much prep work that could be done for an event that moved six months back on the calendar and was relocated from Ireland to Orlando. But Scott created a questionnaire for players and assistant coach Sofie Aagaard, head women’s golf coach at Cal Poly, solicited a short video from each player’s family. The whole team viewed a compilation of the videos. It helped them gel.
“Creating that bond was really important during a time when you could have felt really alone,” Scott acknowledged.
The Internationals led at every turn. They took a 9-to-3 lead after the first day of mixed four-ball and after two rounds of foursomes, were ahead 26.5 to 9.5. After claiming 14 of 24 points in singles, the Internationals won the event, 40.5 to 19.5.
Traditionally, each player is assigned a caddie for the duration of the Palmer Cup, but like so many other things, that went out the window with COVID. Players rode golf carts instead – often with plastic liners separating driver from passenger, even though all coaches, players and officials were inside a Palmer Cup “bubble” for the week.
— Arnold Palmer Cup (@ArnoldPalmerCup) December 23, 2020
As various matches ended around the golf course on Wednesday, a parade of carts swept back and forth across the property, from No. 18 green to No. 9 and back.
The Americans fared better in singles than they did in any other format. Allyson Geer, who already turned professional yet honored her commitment to this event anyway, holed a 25-footer on No. 9 to hold Maja Stark to a tie. Minutes later, world No. 2 amateur Davis Thompson pulled a similar stunt to tie GB&I Walker Cupper Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Red-shirted American teammates were lined up off the left of the ninth green like they were watching a drive-in movie. Those were some of the only moments the Americans had to cheer in a lop-sided victory.
Murray goes back to the four-ball.
“Four-ball has traditionally been an American-strong event, so on the first day our guys were ready for the battle. We kind of talked about it, and nearly every game that came to 18, we ended up winning,” Murray said. “We’re 9-3 ahead at the end of the first session so we had that really good momentum to be able to run downhill, perhaps.”
Robert Duck, assistant coach at Florida State, was a late recruit to the International coaching staff. Known affectionately as “Ducky,” he brought experience coaching men and women, and proved instrumental in getting the most out of five women on the International team who arrived at Bay Hill a week after making the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Two of those women, Swedes Linn Grant and Maja Stark, paired together to put an early foursomes point on the board.
Theirs is exactly the kind of ham-and-egg act you’d want on a Palmer Cup team. They not only pair well on the golf course – understandably, since they attended high school together and have been on the Swedish National Team together five years – but finish each other’s sentences, too. They “kinda, sorta” suggested to the captains they’d be good together at Bay Hill.
“We both mess up quite a lot sometimes so we know how to hit the tricky shots if we need to and we can both shape the ball pretty well,” Stark said.
The beauty of the International team, though, was you didn’t need to be previous acquaintances. Caolan Rafferty, 26 and a recent graduate of Maynooth University in Ireland, flew to Orlando explicitly for this event. The 2019 Walker Cupper didn’t know many faces, but paired well with Mehaffey to win in mixed fourball and dropped a 30-foot birdie bomb from across the green at No. 18 to win a point off Duke’s Evan Katz in singles.
Rafferty leaves with quite a few new friends, and an inability to pick just one favorite moment from a full week.
“The whole lot,” he said when asked. “From arriving, seeing the place, playing the course, meeting everybody, from start to finish it was unbelievable.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/12/23/palmer-cup-international-team-wins-bay-hill/