No matter what happens on the final day of the 15th Solheim Cup, one cast-iron certainty to come out of the contest is that Catriona Matthew will have a pivotal role in the next instalment of this transatlantic tussle. And maybe not as captain, the job she has almost certainly been earmarked for when the event is staged at Gleneagles in 2019.
Seriously, so incredible have the turn of events been for the 47-year-old North Berwick woman here this week in Des Moines that there is absolutely nothing to suggest that she can’t make a 10th playing appearance in the match against the Americans when it is staged on Scottish soil for a third time.
And, having missed out on those two previous events at Dalmahoy in 1992 then Loch Lomond eight years later, how appropriate that would be for Matthew to bring down the curtain on her splendid career in the biggest tournament by far in the women’s game.
With all her experience, both in this event and also, of course, as a major winner, the Scot would certainly earn respect from her players if she does indeed end up as captain at Gleneagles, where she recorded the second of her 11 professional wins in the McDonald’s WPGA Championship in 1998.
There’s no denying, though, that Matthew is way better at letting her clubs do the talking than being able to inspire people with words and, boy, has she proved that since swapping the vice-captain’s role she held coming into this event for a playing part following an unfortunate back injury suffered by Norwegian Suzann Pettersen.
For the second day running, Matthew joined forces with Karine Icher of France to deliver a valuable point for Europe in the foursomes and this 2&1 success over Michelle Wie and Danielle Kang was even more impressive than their last-hole win over Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller on the opening morning at Des Moines Golf & Country Club.
On the back of helping the Americans to a first-ever session whitewash in Friday’s fourballs, giving Juli Inkster’s team a three-point overnight lead, it was very clear on the first tee that Wie and Kang fancied their chances in a match between two sets of players with completely different personalities.
Whereas Wie and Kang are a bit over the top in the smiling, fist-pumping and jumping about department, you probably couldn’t find two players more poker-faced on a golf course than Matthew and Icher, which, in fairness, is why they’ve now won three matches in total together in this event after also picking up a fourballs point at St Leon-Rot in Germany two years ago.
“We don’t want to give away our secrets, do we?” replied Matthew, smiling, to being asked about a partnership that had given Annika Sorenstam’s side the lead after the opening batch of matches then, after sitting out that clean sweep by the home side in the second session, triumphed again in the anchor match in the second-day fourballs to see them shared 2-2.
As had been the case on the first morning, Matthew and Icher secured their victory the hard way. Kang, who’d holed putt after putt on Friday, rolled in a 10-footer at the short third to put the Americans ahead. At that point, the young Californian would have been feeling confident about making it three wins out of three on her debut. She’s not come across Matthew on this stage before, though, and might not fancy doing so again. After the Europeans squared matters with a birdie at the long fourth, Matthew set up the good birdie opportunity Icher converted at the eighth before the Scot holed an eight-footer at the 10th to put them two up. After seeing Icher’s approach from the left rough at the 12th roll back down to the bottom of a steep slope, Matthew played a lovely chip to six feet and Icher, every bit as impressive as her partner in both sessions, converted the par putt for a key half, especially after the Americans won the next with a par.
After the events of the previous afternoon and trailing 2-1 in the session, Europe simply couldn’t afford to lose this one and they didn’t. Icher kept her nerve to knock in a six-foot par putt at the 16th, where Kang’s wayward drive was heading for trouble before hitting a tree and rebounding on to the fairway, to put them two up again and, with Kang unable to extend the match at the next as her putter turned cold, it was job done once more for this trusty pairing.
“Danielle and Michelle played very well yesterday, so that was a big scalp for us,” admitted Matthew of a win that took her points tally to 21, Europe’s third most successful player in the biennial event after Laura Davies (25) and Sorenstam (24). To put that into further perspective, Matthew has also been more successful than any American, Cristie Kerr having jumped ahead of her captain this week, Juli Inkster, by taking her tally to 19 after joining forces with Lexi Thompson to comfortably beat Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Caroline Masson in the opening match on day two.