'It was the single greatest experience I've ever had on the golf course'

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As Team GB&I take on the USA at Quaker Ridge, Maria Dunne reflects back on her time as part of the winning Curtis Cup team

“She’s great for the dynamics of our side” said Elaine Farquharson-Black, GB&I captain for the Curtis Cup 2016. “She is a bit older than the rest but you wouldn’t know it because they all get along so well. She’s got a great sense of humour, she’s young at heart – and then, of course, she’s a class player.”

She was talking about Irish international golfer Maria Dunne, who at 33 years old was at least 10 years older than the rest of the winning team at Dun Laoghaire.

After suffering from a back injury in her twenties, Dunne was the the first player over 25 years old to compete in the team event for 24 years.

Two years on, she has retired from international golf, taken up a new R&A position as the Women & Girls Coordinator for the Confederation of Golf in Ireland, and perhaps most significantly, is just weeks away from expecting her first child.

As the 2018 players prepare to take on the USA at Quaker Ridge, Dunne reflects on her time on Team GB&I…

What was it like to be part of Team GB&I?

Well what can I say about it? It was the single greatest experience of my life on the golf course. And to play it at Dun Laoghaire, which is so close to my home, and with such a huge crowd. That also worked in our favour.

We had a brilliant team, manager and captain, they were just class. Winning on home soil was phenomenal really.

Will it be a disadvantage that it’s not on home soil this year?

I mean look at the records, it is tough to go over there and win it. But the team are strong enough and hopefully what we did in Dun Laoghaire will spur them on. It is difficult but it is doable and they are so talented.

Olivia (Mehaffey) is a college student so she’s used to playing American courses all year round and competing with the majority of the girls on the American team. India (Clyburn) and Alice (Hewson) are also based in American now. That will be a huge advantage.

What were Olivia Mehaffey and Alice Hewson like as team mates?

Oh just super girls. We all bonded from the moment we got together. I knew Olivia from the Irish teams and from training sessions. I didn’t know any of the others except for Leona Maguire and Meghan MacLaren.

When you’re part of a team and good friends it’s just good fun, it makes life on the golf course a lot easier.

Meghan and I had the same coach at the time, he has coached me for 20 years now. We had that bond and it certainly came out in our fourball. We worked so well together and it was just so easy.

What will the team be doing to prepare this week?

I presume they will be doing their usual prep. For a big tournament you don’t want to do anything out of the ordinary. You stick to your own routines and prepare the way you normally would. Like how you warm up, what you eat or how you hydrate.

I expect that they will be doing a lot of short game work around the greens and concentrating on that because really that is where Curtis Cups are won and lost. It really is the difference. As far as course management and preparation these girls don’t need to be told. They are world class amateurs and will be doing all the right stuff.

I expect they’ll be nervous, everybody gets nervous and it’s only natural before teeing off. Especially if it’s your first time. But knowing some of the girls they’ll settle in straight away. Once they get the first shot out of the way they’ll just go and be fine.

Was it like that for you?

Yes, my first shot was in the foursomes with Meghan. Unfortunately she teed off and drove straight into the bunker and I had about 180 yards out of a bunker for my first shot. But I put it 20 feet past the pin and we made 4.

Once I hit that first shot, especially because it was even more difficult, I was fine. Then once the first hole was out of the way I was good for the tournament.

Are team events very different to other tournaments?

Golf is a lonely sport at times, but there’s something about team tournaments, like when I was representing Ireland. There’s nothing like it. It’s hard to explain,I love it and a team setting raises my performance to another level because I don’t want to let my team down. It’s the desire to win.

Also when you’re playing with world no.1 Leona Maguire and Bronte Law, who won five out of five matches, it definitely helps spur you on.

Was it noticeable that you were older than the rest of the team?

Initially I thought it would be, but I didn’t notice it at all actually. Even though we have such different lives. They are college students who play full time where as I work full time.

You would think that would make a difference, but we were all playing for the same end goal. I was probably the mammy of the team, but maybe that’s a good thing and all teams need that. But I didn’t feel my age and the girls were good fun and lovely to be around.

Most of the team have gone on to do great things haven’t they?

They have all turned professional now, there’s just really myself, Olivia and Alice who haven’t. It’s great watching them achieve greatness and hopefully I’ll see them winning majors someday.

Watching them on TV, whether it is on the LET or LPGA, I can always say I played golf with them and that I know them. Its great, I wish them all the best.

Did you always dream of making it on the team?

From 2013 it was on my mind that I could potentially reach the standard needed to make the team if I kept playing so well and making the effort.

Winning it was just another dream come true. I just put myself in contention to make the team and then was like ‘ok lets do this now.’ I wouldn’t say it was a lifelong dream because I only really came into contention in 2014. When I saw girls making the team in 2004 and 2006 I never thought that I would manage it.

In my last year of college in America I had back problems. It didn’t really get any better despite getting treatment on it. So I had an injection to numb the pain while I went away and worked on my fitness and strength. That saved me from needing any surgery.

I had the desire and the passion to see if I could get back on the Irish team, that was my first goal. Then when I had done that I thought maybe I could go to the European Championships and after that it was the World Championships. Then I thought maybe I could make it to the Curtis Cup.

It was all through the help of my coach, he had total belief in me and told me I could do it. All you can do is work hard.

Fortunately it worked out for me. The 6am gym sessions, long days at work and practice were all worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

But I knew that if I didn’t make the Curtis Cup team it wouldn’t be the be all and end all.

I’m a laid back person. I work hard but I know that life is bigger than golf

Do the the photos of the team in America remind you of what it was like?

It’s great, I’m following them all on Twitter so I’m seeing a lot of what’s going on. It’s bringing back great memories for me, but I had my time so I’m not sad that I’m not there. I retired from international golf last year so I have chosen not to be part of it.

The girls in the team all deserve to be there and I hope they bring the trophy back home.

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