Catriona Matthew backed to lead Solheim Cup team

HAVING already seen one soft-spoken Scottish golfing legend harshly overlooked for a European captaincy, DJ Russell is hoping the same thing doesn’t happen to a player he rates in the same category as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Catriona Matthew celebrates after landing a putt in the 2013 Solheim Cup. Picture: Getty
Catriona Matthew celebrates after landing a putt in the 2013 Solheim Cup. Picture: Getty
Catriona Matthew celebrates after landing a putt in the 2013 Solheim Cup. Picture: Getty

In Russell’s eyes, Catriona Matthew, a major winner, seven-times Solheim Cup player and favourite to win the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open for the second time in three years this weekend over a course he designed, is a national treasure.

But so, too, is Sandy Lyle and, having seen with him in the Ryder Cup that justice isn’t a certainty in sport, especially when the decision lies in the hands of others, Russell is keeping his fingers crossed that a Solheim Cup captaincy will eventually fall Matthew’s way.

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“She certainly deserves that role one day,” said the Englishman, an East Lothian resident since he first became involved at Archerfield more than a decade ago. “But Sandy Lyle also deserves to be Ryder Cup captain and that’s still to happen.

“It would be nice for Catriona, but she’s not one that puts herself forward too much and it depends on the powers-that-be. The Solheim Cup, like the Ryder Cup, should be an accolade for what you have achieved in your career and Catriona certainly has the respect of the people in her trade, that’s for sure.”

That includes Russell, a two-times winner on both the European Tour and the European Senior Tour, who marvels at Matthew sitting in the world’s top ten and, less than a fortnight ago, helping Europe record a first Solheim Cup win on US soil at the age of 43.

“Catriona has been incredible for Scottish golf and one of the great things about her is that she plays the game for all the right reasons. She’s really good at it, she’s humble at the same time and is always trying to help people,” he added.

“She’s a great advert for golf and Scotland is really lucky to have her. Over the years golf has been lucky with people who’ve been at the top – the likes of Palmer, Nicklaus and [Gary] Player. Catriona has carried that on by having the same ethics.

“I’d say she is easily in the top five as a player in the history of Scottish golf and probably even higher. The way she goes about her business is just a pleasure to watch. Ladies’ golf is in great hands when it has people like her setting the examples.”

Returning to a venue where she stormed to a ten-shot triumph two years ago before being succeeded by young compatriot Carly Booth, Matthew is the only member of the history-making Solheim Cup side stepping on to the first tee on the Fidra Links tomorrow. A member of the winning side at Dalmahoy in 1992 – one of eight appearances in the transatlantic contest – England’s Trish Johnson had barely arrived at Archerfield yesterday before being grilled about the event lacking Solheim Cup fever.

“I was just asked by a woman in the clubhouse why more of the Solheim Cup players aren’t here and my answer was, ‘because they are playing in a tournament that has ten times more prize-money’,” she said.

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The event in question is the Safeway Classic, this week’s LPGA Tour offering. In sterling, it has £840,000 up for grabs compared to £190,000 for the Ladies Scottish Open, which is also dwarfed by the £1.4 million on offer for last week’s Johnnie Walker Championship on the European Tour.

“They can’t be blamed for that,” added Johnson of the decision by the likes of Carlota Ciganda, lying fifth on this season’s LET money-list, Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Masson to be in Oregon rather than East Lothian. “In any job, if you are offered ten times more money, you are going to go for it, of course you are.

“The only way we will know if winning the Solheim Cup for the first time on US soil is a benefit to European ladies’ golf is by seeing more tournaments and revenue going up considerably. That’s the only way you can put it, really. Otherwise it means nothing.

“Personally, I’d like to see some players come back and play a bit over here, but they are perfectly entitled to do what they want and it is still nice to see that, when it comes to the Solheim Cup, they all still want to desperately win for the European cause no matter whether they live over here or not.”

Johnson, winner of 22 titles worldwide and desperate to add the Ladies Scottish Open to her tally after failing to convert promising positions twice in the last three years, bristled at the suggestion the LET and European Tour faced similar situations.

“The men are all multi-millionaires and could give up the game tomorrow, so it’s not the same really,” she said. “We’ve got a great event here this week, but the money isn’t big enough and that’s not belittling anyone in any shape or form.

“Last week, you’ve got a tournament up the road (at Gleneagles) where the men were playing for £1.4 million and here we are playing for £180,000. It’s tough.”