Catriona Matthew stays on course for Rio Olympics

Catriona Matthew will be given a lifetime achievement award by Scottish Golf on Friday.  Picture: Morne de Klerk/Getty Images
Catriona Matthew will be given a lifetime achievement award by Scottish Golf on Friday. Picture: Morne de Klerk/Getty Images
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Outside the school gates in North Berwick, Catriona Matthew is content to blend in with the crowd. “It’s nice that I am treated as a normal person,” she said of hanging around with fellow parents for her two daughters, nine-year-old Katie and six-year-old Sophie, to come out at bell time. “Some probably know who I am and some probably don’t, which I like.”

Inside those gates, Katie is starting to be made aware that her modest mother is not just one of the most successful Scottish sportswomen of her era but, in the twilight of a glittering career, could be part of golf’s much-anticipated return to the Olympic Games after more than 100 years in Brazil this summer.

“Katie is beginning to appreciate what I do,” admitted the 46-year-old, smiling, with a cup of steaming coffee in her hands as we chatted overlooking North Berwick’s West Links from the Matthew family’s temporary residence while their home close to the 18th tee with stunning views across the bay towards the Bass Rock undergoes a major renovation.

“I think she secretly thinks it would be cool if I got in the Olympics,” added Matthew, who would make the Great Britain & Ireland women’s team along with English teenager Charley Hull if the qualification race ended now rather than mid-July. “I think a few of her friends say a few things and I think, though keeping it to herself, she is quite pleased what I do.”

Both Katie and Sophie should feature prominently in the tale that will be told to a sell-out audience in Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange on Friday night as Matthew joins Paul Lawrie, Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance, Sandy Lyle and, most recently, Bernard Gallacher in being granted a Scottish Golf Lifetime Award.

In her first season back after giving birth to Katie in 2006, the long-time Scottish No 1 recorded six top-10 finishes, including a season-best tie for second at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Then, just 11 weeks after the arrival of Sophie, she pulled off one of the sport’s greatest triumphs by becoming the first Scot to win a women’s major with victory in the 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham.

“Maybe we should have had more kids,” chuckled a relaxed Matthew.

Throw in the fact she has managed to combine motherhood and golf to such good effect that last year’s Solheim Cup appearance in Germany was her eighth in the biennial event and she’s just embarked on her 22nd season on the LPGA Tour, then a standing ovation that is both loud and long is a cast-iron certainty in the west side of the capital later in the week.

“You are always going to nervous about coming back to golf after giving birth because you just don’t know what lies ahead,” recalled Matthew. “I was probably out the game for six months around the time Katie was born. But I came back in Phoenix in March and I remember Graeme [her husband and caddie at the time] and I looking at each other and thinking ‘you’ve never been away’.”

Matthew is so unassuming that she will probably find it awkward being the centre of attention at the annual Scottish Golf Awards. In fact, she was almost blushing when I told her about Lydia Ko, the 18-year-old women’s world No 1, talking on television during the recent Australian Open at the “respect” she has for the woman known widely in the game as “Beany”.

“It is always difficult to think of yourself in that way, to be honest,” said Matthew, who has 11 worldwide wins to her name and more than 100 top-10s on the LPGA Tour alone.

“It’s a bit like the award I’m receiving on Friday. It’s not until you get something like that and, even then, it probably won’t be until I stop playing that I will realise my career has been pretty good. When you are playing, you want to keep playing and continue to keep doing better. I think it’s easier to look from the outside and make a judgment on someone’s career.

“Lydia, to be fair, is one of the nicest people you could ever come across. She is a great ambassador for golf. For a world No 1 to be so genuine is great. She is very mature for someone that young.”

Matthew was more into badminton – she represented Scotland – than golf in her early to mid-teens and, fresh from graduating from Stirling University with a degree in financial studies, had a job lined up as a trainee accountant before trying her luck at the LPGA Tour Qualifying School and never really looking back thereafter.

“I think golf was definitely the better option,” she said, giggling. “If you’d asked me when I started out, would I still be playing 22 years on, I’d have said probably not. My first year I was ill, so I didn’t play that many events. It probably took me three or four years, in fact, to get into it, but I’ve always been lucky that I have done quite well, both in amateur golf and the professional ranks.”

There’s more to it than luck, of course.

“I think you need the natural talent to achieve your career goal – in my case getting on to the LPGA Tour – and then it’s a combination of talent and hard work to keep there,” she added.

“To be there as long as I have now I suppose it’s more the work ethic because everybody has that natural talent.

“Like any job, it has had its moments and you have to work really hard when that’s the case. If you can play top-class sports, the rewards can be very good and I have been very fortunate. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

The excited chatter would surely extend outside those school gates if that Olympic dream comes true in August.