MENTION the Curtis Cup, and images of a matronly contest are apt to spring to mind. But the teams who represent the United States and Great Britain and Ireland are getting younger and younger. This year's match, which gets underway over the Old Course in St Andrews on Friday, is no exception.
The holders, America, are arriving in Fife with a team whose average age is 21. This, though, makes them veterans. The GB&I side, with four of the eight players from Scotland, has a mean age of just 19. Even the Busby Babes were older.
Sally Watson, who is 16, epitomises the new breed of Curtis Cup player - highly focused, determined and mature beyond her years. Even so she's not the youngest in the home side; her friend and rival, Carly Booth, is just 15 and replaces fellow Scot Jane Connachan as the most precocious to have been selected for GB&I.
The pair, like the other Scots, Krystle Caithness (19) and Michele Thomson (20), are great prospects. Watson and Booth could carve outstanding careers for themselves on the LPGA Tour in America, although history shows that teenage prodigies have no guarantee of later success. Nevertheless, Watson seems better equipped than most to make the leap.
Last summer, when the Ricoh Women's British Open was held at St Andrews, she not only came through qualification to compete against the world's top professionals, but survived the cut and finished tied 50th in the championship won by Lorena Ochoa. Watson believes that will give her an edge this week as the only player on either side to have played the Old Course in the most demanding competitive conditions.
"I can't wait for it to start," she says. "It's going to be an unbelievable experience and the whole team are desperate to get the week underway."
The Americans have dominated the Curtis Cup, but Watson believes this year's unique venue - it is the first time the match has been held there - will be to her side's advantage.
"It is definitely a completely different kind of golf," Watson says. "There has hardly been any rain in May so the fairways and greens are going to be hard. Then you've got the double greens and the blind holes. The Americans will discover you can't fire your ball to the pin and expect it to spin back. Then there's what we regard as a windy day compared with them. At the Ricoh last year, lots of top Americans didn't make the cut."
Watson is speaking at the family home in Earlsferry, which sits snugly close to the sixth tee of Elie golf course in Fife. These days, though, Watson is to be found more often in Florida, where she attends the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. At an earlier age, she spent three years living in California when her father Graham, who is now executive director of the Scottish Institute of Sport Foundation, moved there to work.
"I've learned a lot from being over there," she says. "The competition is so deep because it's a huge country compared with Britain. But you can't beat Scotland when the weather is good. There's nowhere like it."
Watson has one year of high school left in Florida, but at the end of this summer will decide where her further education lies. Most of the top American universities have made her offers, but if she has a leaning it is towards Stanford, alma mater of Tiger Woods, John McEnroe and Tom Watson. As well as continuing her golfing education in college competition, she has a thirst for learning, and subjects such as business and general psychology.
The psychology of golf fascinates Watson, and marks her out as a teenager of remarkable maturity. "In my opinion," she states, "the mental side of the game is the most important part. That is how you are going to maximize your potential.
"You could hit better golf shots than Tiger Woods on the range, but if you can't do it on the course it doesn't matter. You have to make sure your practice is purposeful, and that you're making the most of every round when you're out on the course. When I hit a bad shot it's because I'm mentally not committed to the shot or am indecisive, not just because I put a bad swing on the shot. I put the bad swing on because of what's going on in my brain.
"Take Sergio Garcia, for example. He's one of the best ball strikers in the world, and he hits more fairways and greens than Tiger. He also has a very creative short game, yet his putting lets him down. He used to be a really good putter when he was young. He obviously lost confidence, and in golf confidence is everything. If he could get that back, he would be one of the world's very top players.
"You never see Tiger miss a putt when he has to hole one. It's tough to beat someone who mentally believes in himself so much. If you can perform like that under pressure you're going to do well in any sport."
Which is why, although some players would run a mile from the prospect, Watson would love to be in the position of needing to hole a 10-footer to win the Curtis Cup for her side next Sunday.
"I think it is one of my strengths," she says. "I have holed putts on the 18th green when I've had to. I can remember one competition when I mucked up the last hole and was left with a 17ft left-to-right putt which I had to sink. I can visualise it now. It sounds silly, but sometimes you step on to the green and you know the ball is going to go into the hole.
"A 10-foot putt to win the Curtis Cup is a situation I'd like to be in. One of the things I like about golf is that it challenges you as a person. So much of golf is a battle within yourself. It's not playing the golf course, and it's definitely not playing your opponents in stroke play. The reason I spend hours on the range is that I want to be in that situation of holing the winning putt and push myself to see if I can accomplish it. Obviously if you didn't hole it you would be gutted, but it would probably make you a better golfer because you're going to go out next day and practice even harder. If you do hole that putt to win the Curtis Cup it makes all the effort worthwhile."
It's impressively advanced chat from a girl who, after all, is still only 16. There is more, much more, including how top sportsmen and women should use their fame to improve the world and be role models. But then, just as we are ending, the teenager breaks through.
It emerges that Woods has a niece from his father's first marriage who is making waves in amateur golf in America. "It must be pretty cool," says Watson wistfully, "having Tiger Woods as your uncle. You could phone him up and ask him anything!"