The British Union Jack hung limply over the front terrace of the Broadmoor Golf Club on a still afternoon in Colorado Springs last week as a local Army band oom-pah-pahed the Colonel Bogey march. The flag had been raised to salute the presence of the very youthful British Curtis Cup golf team that had been sent 5,000 miles to compete with the best women amateurs in the U.S. As the eight British girls stepped forward to be introduced at the official opening ceremonies, demure but bright-eyed in trim blue blazers and pale-blue skirts, at least one observer lost his composure.
"They're trying to beat us with a bunch of cute little cupcakes," he exclaimed.
Young cupcakes the visitors certainly were, but beat the best women amateurs in the U.S. they emphatically did not. There were nine matches in the 12th edition of this international event, and the team representing the British Isles was able to win only one. The 8-to-1 score was a record margin. While the result was a bitter disappointment to the losing team and its optimistic rooters back home, this year's matches were only the first step in a golfing youth movement that the British hope will bring back the glory that once was theirs.
"After the disaster in the Curtis Cup at Lindrick two years ago [the U.S. regained the cup 6½ points to 2½], we decided we had to go ahead and encourage our younger players," says Mrs. Bunty Smith, 38, the nonplaying captain of the British team and a heroine of cup matches in balmier days. In consequence came a program called the Ladies' Golf Union Training Scheme, which sounds almost ruthlessly thorough. Whenever a promising young British girl turned up at even the most obscure golfing outpost, she was sent shuttling off to a specially designated golf pro for advanced training. All the trainees met for three-day periods every four months.
One of the results was that when the British cup team was selected this summer its average age was 23—some five years lower than the last cup team. Then as a final step toward firm dedication, the British team was put through a rigid five-day training-camp session before leaving for the U.S. early this month.
"Well, we had to do something," explained Mrs. Smith in Colorado Springs. "Up until now the girls all thought you had to be practically 90 to make the team. We are trying to prove that isn't true. We set up our training procedure so that our pros could teach the girls the American swing. You know, swinging the club straight back from the ball and then straight down and through it, eliminating the excessively wristy action we formerly used."
This standardized swing, very upright, with a noticeable pause at the top and a great amount of hip action coming down, made the British players look as if they had all been stamped out by the same machine. Lined up in a row on the practice tee, in light-blue Bermuda shorts, white golf shirts and floppy hats, they resembled nothing so much as a chorus line in a London musical.
But while youthful good looks are delightful in themselves, they don't necessarily help win golf matches. The American team, young (average age 26) and attractive in its own right, was also simply too good. "All eight of my girls are hitting the ball so well," said the U.S. nonplaying captain, Polly Riley, who had to eliminate two of hers from play each day, "that I'm confident any six I pick will do fine." This was an understatement.
Miss Riley proved to be an astute psychologist in pairing up her six players for the Scotch foursome competition on the first day. Since each player must hit alternate shots, these match-ups must be made with care. Miss Riley paired together the two perfectionists, Anne Quast Decker, the U.S. Women's Amateur champion in 1958 and 1961, and Barbara McIntire, who won the Amateur in 1959. Long hitter JoAnne Gunderson was paired with Louisiana's Clifford Ann Creed, because both are free-swinging, reckless golfers, and 41-year-old Ann Casey Johnstone was matched with 23-year-old Jean Ashley, a tall, languid girl from Chanute, Kans. with a slow swing that matches her temperament, simply to balance inexperience with imperturbable maturity.
For a while on the first day it appeared as if the matches might be close. But two hours after the start, the rout began. At that moment the British team of 19-year-old Ann Irvin, a plump little brunette with a perpetual pout, and 20-year-old Sheila Vaughan led the Gunderson-Creed twosome on the 11th hole of their 36-hole match. The Decker-McIntire team had struggled to a 3-up lead over Marley Spearman and Angela Bonallack, the No. 1 British pair, on the 12th hole. But Britons Diane Frearson, 18, a show-girl-size blonde, and tiny Ruth Porter, 23, had whittled an early Johnstone-Ashley lead of four holes down to two after nine.
Then Gunderson, who had been playing sloppily, injected a fierce spark into the American attack. As she trudged up the 11th fairway, Miss Creed mumbled to her partner that they better get going soon. "Yeah, like right now," JoAnne answered. The hole is a par-5, playing at about 410 yards. The husky JoAnne drew out a four-iron, and smashed a high, soaring shot onto the green. The ball floated down no more than six feet from the hole. The British girls made a fine birdie, but Clifford Ann dropped in her putt, and the U.S. team won the hole with an eagle 3. Two holes later they led I up and were never behind again. Neither were the other American pairs. Miss Ashley and Miss Johnstone, in fact, won their match by a record margin of 8 holes up with 7 to play.
The singles matches the following day struck only one cheerful note for the British in an otherwise gloomy dirge. The youngest Britisher, Miss Frearson, proved to be the best player as well. She hits a long ball and putts with the sure authority of an American. Only three-over-par for the 29 holes she played, she defeated a luckless Judy Bell, 8 and 7. While Diane's excellent showing may supply a shred of encouragement for Britain's youth-training plan, their players still have much to learn. With only two or three exceptions, they do not hit the ball nearly far enough, nor nearly high enough to compete with the U.S. players. In addition, their long, flaccid putting strokes are not at all effective on fast, contoured greens. Nor is their heavy reliance on touch and feel in their putting apt to stand up to an attack of nerves under pressure.
But the British girls made a delightful impression during their visit to Colorado, the first time their team has been west of the Mississippi. And if the British Isles had to send some ladies 5,000 miles to receive such a trouncing, they could not have picked more pleasant ambassadors to carry out the suicidal assignment. It's just too bad that the Army band could have rightfully sent them away with the aptly named tune it used to greet them, the Bogey march.