Captain Catriona Matthew has shaken up Europe’s qualification process for next year’s Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, where the Scot’s opposite number will be Juli Inkster following her appointment for an unprecedented third time.
Matthew has increased the number of places up for grabs through the world rankings from four to five following back-to-back defeats for the Europeans in the biennial event, leaving three spots for LET players and four captain’s picks.
The 48-year-old believes the tweak will increase the home side’s chances of repeating Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup triumph at the Perthshire venue and is also pleased that the LET, which had a threadbare schedule last season, will receive a direct boost in the build up to the biennial event.
That’s because leading Europen players will be required to play in a minimum of eight events – two more than in the past – on their home circuit, meaning fields will be strengthened on this side of the Atlantic by the inclusion of more LPGA card holders.
“We’ve lost the last two matches so I think we need to do something slightly different and, yes, I was fairly instrumental in getting some changes through,” Matthew, who was appointed last September, revealed in a conference call to discuss Inkster having been confirmed as the US captain.
“For us, I think it was important to have that extra spot from the world rankings, which I think are a good reflection of where people are standing in the world of golf, and that’s why I have predominantly changed that.
“I think what we are going to have is a good balance. I also think it is a good thing for the LPGA players to show that commitment by coming back to play an extra two events on the LET. It is good for the Tour and shows they want to support it.”
While Mickey Walker led Europe in the first four Solheim Cups, including a victory at Dalmahoy in 1992, Inkster is making history for the Americans by securing the captaincy for a third time after earning her stripes in those victories at St Leon Rot in Germany and Des Moines.
“I must say I had a feeling that it was going to be Juli again,” admitted Matthew, pictured, who was due to be one of Annika Sorenstam’s assistant captains in Iowa before stepping into the team to replace the injured Suzann Pettersen. “Yes, it is unprecedented, but she’s been so successful in the last two. She will be a great opponent as a captain. I’ve been up against her a few times over the years, including a couple of battles in the Solheim Cup, one of which was a win over her with Janice Moodie.”
Matthew, who has been picking Paul McGinley’s brains after he proved a brilliant home captain in that Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, added: “I’ve got great respect for Juli and we are good friends. She’s a fierce competitor so I know what a tough challenge it is going to be, but I think we can rise to it. The US players have a lot of respect for her, so why change a winning formula? But winning ways always have to come to an end.”
Inkster, a seven-time major winner, said it was a “no brainer” when she was asked in December to stay on as US captain. “It’s kind of surreal,” admitted the 57-year-old, a somewhat quirky individual compared to her opposite number. “I didn’t really think I would have a chance to do it three times but here I am and I’m super-jacked. I love playing golf at Gleneagles and it will be exciting to work with Beany [Matthew], an amazing golfer and a friend, as we move forward to Scotland.”
“Right now we have a good thing going. There’s no guarantee we’re going to win, that’s golf, I mean it’s just who plays the best. But I think it’s good for women’s golf to maybe jump out and be a leader in something like this.”