August 15, 2017 marked the week I played in the Ping Junior Solheim Cup. It was my third time representing the United States of America and my last tournament before beginning my collegiate golf career at Wake Forest University.
Four years later, which was last week, I competed in the 2021 Curtis Cup in Conwy, Wales. This was my 10th time representing the USA and alongside me were Rose Zhang, Rachel Heck and Gina Kim - three of my Jr. Solheim teammates.
These two events separate themselves in my mind because it was a team solely of women. The Jr. Solheim Cup consisted of 12 young women who became some of my closest friends and still are today. After sparsely seeing each other around the world during golf tournaments, the Jr. Solheim Cup was a week where we could compete collectively.
I didn’t relate much to my friends at home. Few people understood why I trained every day, why I couldn’t go on day trips, brunches or sleepovers. But when I traveled for tournaments, I would meet young men and women with the same aspiring dreams as me and the same work ethic. Unfortunately, this meant that my best friends were miles away from home, but the Jr. Solheim allowed me to deepen my long-distance friendships and savor memories for life.
Looking back to the 2017 team, it’s incredible to see how far we’ve come. I first met Rose Zhang at Jr. Solheim. After that week, I grew close with Lucy Li and Yealimi Noh. Those three women are some of the best golfers in the world - Zhang, the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world, Noh making her debut appearance at this year’s Solheim Cup and Li climbing the ranks through the Epson Tour and onto the LPGA Tour.
Half of the 2017 U.S. Jr. Solheim Cup team are now professional golfers - Yealimi Noh, Lucy Li, Alyaa Abdulghany, Youngin Chun, Kaitlyn Papp and Jennifer Chang. The remaining six of us - Rose Zhang, Rachel Heck, Brooke Seay, Erica Shepherd, Gina Kim and myself compete at Stanford University, Duke University and Wake Forest University. Four out of the six of us are inside the top 20 in the world amateur rankings, including Zhang and Heck claiming the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively.
Not only did the Jr. Solheim Cup become pivotal points in our golf success but the camaraderie between the 12 of us was enriching. More than our victory that week (which was a 14.5 - 9.5 decisive win), we got to meet our role models on the Solheim Cup professional team, hung out with Angel Yin who we all knew from junior golf and stayed up until past 3 a.m. watching movies, laughing and bonding.
Half of this year’s Curtis Cup included those on the Jr. Solheim Cup team - Zhang, Heck, Kim and myself. Despite part of the team coming later in the week due to Q-school and COVID vaccines, we all immediately connected. We played in a five-ball for each practice round and spent our time joking with our caddies, most who were near our age. We walked Conwy mountain, toured the Conwy castle, had an intense fuzzball game before our singles matches, and traveling home, we stayed in the United Club as long as we could before eventually departing to our gates.
Not a moment was dull - despite being down 4.5-1.5 points after day one.
Although we remained positive, it’s not the best feeling when we fought hard for only 1.5 points. I had lost both of my matches and wanted more than anything to get some points on the board for my team.
On the bus ride home, we had a perspective shift. Heck and I got a news notification that a bomb had gone off at Kabul airport in Afghanistan and at least 13 American soldiers were dead. We announced it to the team and the bus went silent for a moment.
Our team manager Laura Notcha broke the silence.
“That’s who we’re playing for tomorrow,” she said.
A new energy surfaced at 7:45am when Zhang and Heck teed off again in foursomes. Rachel Kuehn and I followed behind them with Jensen Castle and Brooke Mathews anchoring the morning matches. We won 2.5 out of 3 points in the morning. At the end of the second day, the score was tied 6-6.
That moment on the bus was an important reminder for all of us. “It just puts everything into perspective,” Heck had told me. “Golf doesn’t matter at all compared to this.”
What did matter, and what always mattered when representing the United States of America, was how we united as a team. Regardless of the outcome after the final day, we were going to put up a fight. Not for our own individual satisfaction, but for the honor of the USA.
In the final round of singles we had a near sweep, earning 6.5 out of 8 points and officially winning the Curtis Cup. But the best part wasn’t when I held the trophy for the first time, it was running to my teammates after I finished my match and celebrating our triumphal moment. We were not the favorites and we trailed early in the match, but today we were victorious.
However, when I think back to the Curtis Cup, my favorite memory is still not the win. It was when the Great Britain and Ireland players stormed into our team room with a speaker in hand and we played ping pong and danced to the best European music before our 4 a.m. flight the next morning. It was a time for all of us to celebrate. That week we all had achieved the height of amateur golf, and that was an accomplishment to savor with each other.
As a graduate student, a journalist and an amateur, I find what I do extremely special. I’ve competed with the best amateurs in the world and learned from the best professionals in the world from the three LPGA Tour majors I’ve participated in. In some instances as a journalist - like this moment - I get to reflect on my own golf experiences. In others, I have the honor of capturing moments of the best amateur and professional golfers around the world, many of whom are close friends of mine.
On this years’ American Solheim cup team, I’ve interviewed eight of the 12 players, one of those players, Jennifer Kupcho, is my former teammate. I first met Megan Khang at the 2014 Scott Robertson Memorial and later played with her in the 2020 U.S. Open. In 2015, I competed in the Yani Tseng Invitational and PING invitational when Nelly Korda won both events. I remember congratulating her in the bathroom at Karsten Creek Golf Club. And this week, I get to watch my Jr. Solheim teammate Yealimi Noh make her debut appearance in the Solheim Cup.
It’s a full circle moment for me that’s irreplaceable.