THE world No 10 and Scotland’s most recent major winner playing on her own doorstep just over a week after clinching Europe’s first Solheim Cup win on US soil in her seventh appearance in the biennial bout with the Americans.
Throw in free admission and last week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies’ Scottish Open at Archerfield Links was the perfect opportunity for the nation’s sporting public to finally show its recognition of a Scottish sporting legend.
It may not have been a repeat of people lining the streets, as happened in Dunblane earlier in the year after Andy Murray had come up with the winning Wimbledon formula, but Catriona Matthew should certainly be held in the same regard as her compatriot by every single sports enthusiast in this country. Which is why, in the eyes of this correspondent at least, it was verging on embarrassing that, for the second time in three years, so few people turned up in Matthew’s native East Lothian to not only admire her skills but also say a “thank-you” for the way she has flown the flag for Scottish golf around the world for close to 20 years.
Hats off to those who made the effort, including Nigel Watt, a likeable rules official for the R&A, and the likes of Robin Carson and Derek Miller, two well-kent faces on the Edinburgh golf scene, but there were lots more people out playing themselves at Luffness New and Gullane over three days than spectating a few miles further down the coast. That, of course, is their prerogative and there’s a fair chance that painfully slow play – not helped, unfortunately, by this particular event being a pro-am from start to finish – could well have put off anyone there on either Friday or Saturday from returning.
And that is even before a wild wind and dip in the temperature turned the final round into one of those days when it is was not pleasant to be out on a golf course, either as a player or spectator.
It wasn’t the case two years ago, however, when Matthew took a four-shot lead into the final round and went on to rubberstamp her class as she won by ten strokes. So, why does there appear to be a reluctance on the part of the Scottish golfing public, widely recognised as the most knowledgeable in the game, to give proper recognition to someone who is so well respected by her peers?
“Maybe that’s female golf because, despite being a credit to work with and a great live model for the young players, she doesn’t get the credit she deserves,” observes Kevin Craggs, the Scottish ladies’ national coach and Matthew’s swing guru for the past five years.
In the eyes of a fellow member of the Fourth Estate, the 44-year-old mum of two hasn’t received the column inches her performances have merited because she’s too reserved and rarely offers anything out of the ordinary. No-one, however, has proved more adept at letting their golf clubs do the talking than the 2009 Women’s British Open winner.
“She’s an ambassador for women’s golf and when she walks on the range there’s that quiet respect,” adds Craggs. “She isn’t loud, but there is a respect she’s earned through what she does. She is the only person, male or female, who has come to me and said ‘how can I be the best in the world?’
“Annika Sorenstam said to me in Ireland [at the 2011 Solheim Cup] that Catriona’s on the back nine of her career. For me, she’s on the 11th. She seems to get stronger every year, physically, mentally, tactically. Every year she’s stronger and stronger. That’s a question of her desire, her work ethic, her focus and her determination, and the will to be the best at 44 and the mother of two.
“There aren’t many Catriona Matthews and I read somewhere [in The Scotsman last week] she should be going down as a legend. Perhaps I’m biased but, for me, she is one of golf’s legends. And the book’s still open, she’s still writing as we speak.”
Having knocked at the door in the four so far this season, it’s certainly not ridiculous to suggest a second major could be in the offing in next week’s Evian Championship in France. But, even if Matthew retires tomorrow, she’s already achieved more than enough to be in the top five of Scotland’s all-time great golfers.
Hopes with Gallacher
In addition to the now retired Mark Garrod, the Press Association’s splendid golf correspondent, and Doug Ferguson, his equally respected counterpart for Associated Press, one of my early-morning colleagues in the Media Centre at Open Championships over the past few years has been Bernard Gallacher.
Rarely at that event has another long day not started with a chat between us about football – Bernard is a dyed-in-the-wool Hibernian fan though he has watched more of Fulham recently along with his close friend and former Wentworth colleague Chris Kennedy – or the latest developments in Scottish golf, particularly in his native Lothians.
Along with so many others, it was a massive shock to the system when I heard the news on Friday that Bernard, a fitter-looking man than some people a fraction of his age, had collapsed during a visit to Aberdeen and remains critically ill in a hospital there surrounded by his wife, Lesley, and their three children.
If the golfing gods are involved, Gallacher will pull through. His achievements, both as a player and Ryder Cup captain, are well-documented. His influence on nephew Stephen is immeasurable and it’s no coincidence both him and Jamie, Gallacher’s son, are fine young men, both on and off the golf course. Nor is the fact one of Gallacher’s closest friends is Renton Laidlaw, another of life’s true gentlemen.
A total stranger – she’d noticed I was wearing a rain jacket bearing the Stephen Gallacher Foundation logo – approached me at Archerfield Links on Sunday to ask about Bernard. “A lovely man,” she remarked, before crossing her fingers without adding anything else. She didn’t have to.