ARDMORE, Pa. — The 42nd Curtis Cup will test the women at a yardage of just 6,130 yards, but if we have learned anything from Merion Golf Club, outside of Philadelphia in the suburb of Ardmore, length is not the point.
At 381 yards less than Conwy Golf Club in Wales, the home of the 2021 Curtis Cup (the 2020 matches were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Merion has always been a handful no matter its length.
Great Britain and Ireland Captain Elaine Ratcliffe, on her second run as captain, knew Merion was special on her first visit in November last year and while she knew she had good players, she also knew she would need some assistance.
What better than to call an old friend and a new one?
Ratcliffe’s friendship with Mark Fulcher, a caddy at the time on the ladies’ circuit, goes back to the days when she was playing professional golf including being the 1999 rookie of the year on the Ladies European Tour.
Injuries sidelined her professional career, but her friendship with “Fooch” was a positive byproduct of her limited professional career.
For those unaware of Fulcher, he was on the bag for Justin Rose when he captured his only major, the 2013 US Open at Merion, and was also on Billy Horschel’s bag when he won last week at the Memorial Tournament.
Ratcliffe also reached out to John McLaren, veteran caddy for Luke Donald and Paul Casey, and a friend of Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A.
Known for wearing long socks during his rounds, McLaren has taken the year off from caddying, but has offered his knowledge of Merion from caddying for Luke Donald, who tied for eighth at the US Open at Merion.
“It was not attacking it, it was staying under the flag,” Ratcliffe said of the advice she received from the duo. “Full stop. If that makes sense.”
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In 1981, Merion’s scorecard was 6,544 yards, the shortest course since the 1947 US Open at St. Louis Country Club and of the field of 156, only five players broke par and 10 shot par or better.
The 1981 version is a good barometer for how Merion plays.
In 2013, none of the 156-player field finished at par or better.
When Rose won, he finished at 1-over, two clear of Jason Day and Phil Mickelson and that was on a course that had seen significant rain on the Wednesday before and moist conditions during the week.
With perfect pre-Cup conditions and the weather forecast devoid of precipitation, Merion will play as its original designer Hugh Wilson designed it to play, hard and fast.
“Most courses in America are high ball flight, but you hit a low ball, you can still get around and you can still beat people around here, so I don’t think it’s a case of us thinking we need to play any differently, ” said Hannah Darling, an 18-year-old from Scotland and the University of South Carolina. “We’re all good players, and we’ll play our games around here and we should have a good chance.
Darling won three points in Wales last year and won the 2021 R&A Girls Amateur Championship.
“Yeah, we got beaten; that’s under our skin,” Darling said. “We’ve got a little something there that obviously gives a bit more motivation. But I think any match between — in a Curtis Cup, you always want to beat them. I think with six of us returning, it’s definitely going to be interesting.”
Ratcliffe learned a little from the 12 ½ to 7 ½ loss in Wales and beyond working with Fooch and “Long Stockings,” the 1996 Curtis Cupper learned from her first go round as captain.
“We’ve thought about nutrition,” Ratcliffe said. “I was aware that we flagged on the second morning and then possibly the last afternoon, so we’ve looked at nutrition.”
The GB&I team also came to Merion to get a feel for the design and have a better feeling for a layout that has never disappointed in its previous 19 USGA championships.
“There wasn’t a lot of things to do differently from Conwy because I think we took it to them and we did a lot of things well,” Ratcliffe said. “So it’s been about tweaking, I would say, as opposed to changing.”