CATRIONA Matthew has already served up one Lancashire hot-pot in the Ricoh Women’s British Open. That was her win at Royal Lytham in 2009. Now she’s hoping to cook up another victory in the north-west of England, this time at nearby Royal Birkdale.
Traditionally, the LGU’s flagship event is the last of the three majors held annually on these shores. Not this year, though. Due to Commonwealth Games logistics for the BBC, it is first in the queue. Being held on 10-13 July, it is up against the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.
It doesn’t matter to Matthew when it is being held. It is an event she always savours. Winning it once was nice. Doing it again is definitely in her sights. At 44, she believes she is playing the best golf of her career.
“It’s unfortunate the Women’s Open is against the men’s Scottish Open but everything is trying to go before or after the Commonwealth Games and, of course, we’ve got the Ryder Cup after that,” said the North Berwick player.
“It’s a busy summer in Scotland and Britain for sport so you’ve just got to take the slot you can get and I don’t think the Women’s Open being earlier this year makes any difference to the players, to be honest, as it’s pot luck with the weather in the summer here.
“I love Royal Birkdale, where the start is especially tough. I think the first time I played it was the first time they held the British there [in 2000]. I maybe haven’t done overly well there but that’s not because I don’t like the course and maybe this year I can change that. When you win a major, it is always something you know you’ve done so I do think you reflect on it now and again. I think it helps relax you going into other majors as you know you’ve won one before.
“I definitely feel there is another major in me. I feel I’m playing as well as I ever have. It all comes down to how you putt and if I get a hot week with the putter I definitely feel as though I can contend.”
Matthew, the world No 15, has played six events already this season. Her first trip took in events in Australia, Thailand and Singapore, the second one was to the west coast of America and included the season’s first major – the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“My season hasn’t gone too bad so far, really,” she reflected. “I had a good finish in Thailand [third]. I was also going well in the Kraft Nabisco and, though it was a decent finish [joint 11th], I was a bit disappointed by my final round [a four-over-par 76]. Overall, it’s been pretty good and it shows I’m playing well. Now I’m looking forward to the next run of events coming up.”
That starts with the Swinging Kilts Classic in San Francisco this week, then it is on to Texas for the North Texas LPGA Shootout. In preparation, Matthew did some fine tuning on the range at Archerfield Links last week with coach Kevin Craggs. His enthusiasm for hard work is rubbing off on his star pupil.
“I was working with Kevin last week and, though we were blown away one of the days, it was good to work on a couple of things. When you are away for a few weeks, it is is easy to fall into some bad habits. So It is good to keep everything in check,” said Matthew.“There’s always something to work on and my swing has changed quite a lot over the years when you see it on video. If you watch it in full speed you probably wouldn’t think it’s changed that much, but I’ve made a lot of changes in the last few years. For instance, I’ve changed my backswing quite a lot to try to set the club a lot quicker so that it stays on plane more. That allows me to get a more consistent strike and ball flight. It’s great having someone like Kevin who is so keen and enthusiastic. I think that has to rub off on you. He’s also very positive and always sees the good things in your swing, which is important.”
American Stacy Lewis won last year’s Ricoh event at St Andrews and will be back to defend her title. Women’s world No 1 Inbee Park will be another star attraction, though it’s likely that most eyes, from a home crowd’s point of view anyway, will be on English teenager Charley Hull.
She partnered Matthew when making a stunning Solheim Cup debut in Denver last year and finished just ahead of her in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“We’ll find out in July if Charley can cope with the extra pressure and focus she’s going to be under at Birkdale. But she’s handled things pretty well over the past six to eight months so she’s going to be a little bit used to it,” observed Matthew, who is happy to let her younger rival enjoy the spotlight as she goes about her business in her normal quiet and efficient manner.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been that much focus on me, so I don’t think there’s any difference having someone like Charley up there flying the British flag in these events,” added Matthew.
Matthew, who is defending her Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies’ Scottish Open title at Archerfield Links at the end of August, was pleased to see Carin Koch appointed as Europe’s captain for next year’s Solheim Cup in Germany.
“I think Koch will be a good captain,” noted the player who marked her seventh appearance in the biennial joust by clinching the historic first win on US soil last year. “She was vice captain the last time and she knows all the ins and outs of what goes on. She’s going to have Annika [Sorenstam] as one of her vice captains, so I think they will be a good combination.
“Hopefully, I can keep playing well and get on the team again. I hear the course [St Leon-Rot] is very good and we’ve had good crowds over there for the German Open so it will be a great event.”
The Ricoh event is being held at Royal Birkdale in the year it celebrates its 125th anniversary. The event will boast a £1.85 million prize fund, with the winner picking up £277,887.