Curtis Cup
The 1954 Curtis Cup Team USA. Shown left to right: Joyce Ziske, Pat Lesser, Barbara Romack, Dot Kirby, Harrison Flippin (Captain), Claire Doran, Polly Riley, Mary Lena Faulk and Grace DeMoss. Photo credit: USGA

The Curtis Cup Pioneers Who Paved the Way

The U.S. Curtis Cup team’s return trip to Merion is in stark contrast to the first visit 68 years ago
By Jordan Perez

ARDMORE, Pa. – The first women’s intercollegiate championship had been contested 13 years earlier, but when the Curtis Cup came to Merion Golf Club in September 1954, women’s college golf was merely a dream in the eyes of many. Professional careers were far and few.

Despite the dearth of college competition, the U.S. sent out a proven lineup. Mary Lena Faulk was the 1953 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. Barbara Romack had won the 1953 Canadian Women’s Amateur. Pat Lesser was the low amateur at the 1953 U.S. Women’s Open. Joyce Ziske was the defending North & South champion. Two-time Curtis Cup players Claire Doran and Grace DeMoss were decorated in their own right. Polly Riley and Dot Kirby had played in the four previous matches. 

Along with impressive resumes, the women shared a desire for change. For many accomplished players, it was their only proving ground. Only Lesser was able to shatter the glass ceiling, and she did it in an unconventional way. She enrolled at Seattle University and made the men’s golf team. Lesser didn’t just keep up with the boys; she was the team’s No. 1-ranked player through the first five matches.

DeMoss was among the players who didn’t get such an opportunity. One of the greatest players in Oregon amateur history couldn’t marry her studies with sport at Oregon State. Two decades after DeMoss left campus, the school started a women’s golf team, thanks to the 1972 introduction of Title IX, the landmark legislation that outlawed sex-based discrimination in an educational institution that receives federal funding.

The U.S. prevailed at Merion, 6-3. Doran was among the stars, as she went undefeated for the week. The grit she showed on the golf course extended to her fight for women’s rights, as she emerged as an “early advocate and spokesperson for Title IX in women’s collegiate athletics,” her obituary after her 2016 death read in part.

Yet it wasn’t until 2002 that the U.S. roster was filled with collegians – 50 years since Title IX’s enactment.

“As the Curtis Cup has progressed, you tend to see a lot more college-aged players,” says Rachel Kuehn, a junior at Wake Forest who noted the diversity of the team imparted by Title IX. “When the Curtis Cup was started, I’m sure they couldn’t have dreamed it was going to be the event it has [become].”

Sarah Ingram, back for a second turn as the U.S. captain, has had a front-row seat to the evolution. Ingram’s three Curtis Cups as a player (1992, ’94 and ’96) came at a time when mid-amateurs helped fill the rosters. “It’s come a long way since I played in the ’90s,” Ingram says.

USA team captain Sarah Ingram raises the American flag during the flag-raising ceremony before the 2022 Curtis Cup at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. on Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Chris Keane/USGA)

Tickets to the 1954 Curtis Cup were $5 ($50 in today’s world). Galleries were small. This week the event is free to the public. It will be broadcast on live TV and documented on social media.

The bunkers at Merion are famously referred to as the “white faces” – and although the same could have been said for the 1954 team, the 2022 roster boasts players who are also Black and Asian. This is a squad that arguably could be the greatest Curtis Cup team ever assembled, with six members ranked in the top 20 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking. All eight have played or will play college golf.

A half-dozen familiar faces return from last year: Kuehn, Rose Zhang, Rachel Heck, Emilia Migliaccio, Jensen Castle and Megha Ganne, who was an alternate but didn’t play. That team was tied entering the final day of competition in Wales before dominating in singles and storming to a five-point victory. With Ganne (the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open low amateur, who as a high school junior played in the last group on Sunday), Latanna Stone (an LSU junior, who was the runner-up at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur) and Amari Avery (a three-time winner in her first semester at Southern Cal) joining the lineup, the expectations are sky-high.

“I feel like we were pretty amazing players, but they’re really amazing,” Ingram says, offering high praise for her players’ length and ball-striking.

Absent this time are the questions of what they can achieve if only given the opportunity. Those are replaced by inquiries about what they will achieve. It’s exactly what the members of the 1954 squad would have wanted.

Photo credit: USGA

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