Catriona Matthew can recall every moment of her first Olympic memory, she’d just turned 11 and she was watching Allan Wells claim 100m gold at the Moscow Olympics in the front room of her family home in North Berwick. Golf was already her passion but the thought of becoming an Olympian never crossed her mind.
While the world’s top four men stayed away from Rio, Matthew knew she wanted to be there the second women’s golf’s return to the Games, after a 116-year hiatus, was announced seven years ago in Copenhagen.
Indeed nine of the world’s top ten players will tee up today, despite the Games sitting in between three majors in a two-month stretch, intriguingly mosquitoes aren’t even mentioned.
New Zealand’s world No 1 Lydia Ko is favourite, followed by Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, Canada’s Brooke Henderson and US team-mates Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis.
But Matthew, the Solheim Cup vice-captain, is encouraged by her recent fifth place at the British Open at Woburn, which included a second round 65, which she described as one of her best ever 18 holes.
“Growing up the Olympics was never a goal of mine as golf obviously wasn’t in the programme but it is always something that I have watched religiously and now I get to call myself an Olympian,” she said.
“I do really remember Allan Wells in Moscow but I was a big fan of Daley Thompson too. To think I could get an Olympic medal like them always made this tournament a big motivation.
“The British Open has certainly helped my self-belief. I had been playing well all year, perhaps with one bad round, so to put four good rounds together and beating a lot of top players gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week.”
Women’s golf has certainly changed since its last appearance at the Games, when American Margaret Abbott became the first woman Olympic champion in any sport. She took home a porcelain bowl, rather than a gold medal, for her effort on a nine-hole course in Paris and later told friends she didn’t even know she was competing at the Olympics.
Matthew, in contrast, has certainly embraced the event since arriving in the Olympic Village, watching Justin Rose win the men’s gold and then cheering Andy Murray to victory in the tennis before turning her attention to today’s opening round alongside Israel’s Laetitia Beck and Japan’s Shiho Oyama.
“It would definitely rank right up there at the top,” said Matthew, when asked to compare the chance of winning here to her only major success, at the British Open seven years ago.
“Just watching a couple of the medal ceremonies, it’s great and it puts a tear in your eye watching them go up and hearing the national anthem being played. I’d say – especially with the quality of the field – this is up there with our majors and there are plenty of rankings points available too, that’s why every top player wanted to be here.”
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