Talk about getting straight to the point. “To be a winning captain in Scotland would rank just about above my British Open,” declared Catriona Matthew in just her second answer at the start of the week that sees her lead Europe into battle against the United States in the 16th Solheim Cup at Gleneagles.
It merits putting that into perspective because her 2009 Women’s Open win was no ordinary victory, of course. Not only did the North Berwick player become the first Scot to claim a women’s major, but her success at Royal Lytham was achieved just a few weeks after she gave birth to a second daughter.
There have been other memorable moments in her career, including two Ladies Scottish Open title triumphs in her native East Lothian and a big McDonald’s WPGA Championship win at this week’s venue, as well as victories in Australia, Brazil, Hawaii and Mexico.
However, just like Colin Montgomerie in the Ryder Cup, many of Matthew’s most-cherished memories have come in the Solheim Cup since getting her first taste of the biennial encounter back in 1998 at Muirfield Village, where she partnered Annika Sorenstam in the foursomes on both days.
As a captain’s pick, she holed the winning putt at Barsebäck in Sweden in 2003 while, on her second triumphant team at Killeen Castle in Ireland eight years later, she led from the front on the final day by dishing out a 6&5 hammering to Paula Creamer in the last-day singles.
Those experiences helped make up for the disappointment of being controversially overlooked by her compatriot, Dale Reid, for the 2000 match at Loch Lomond, as did securing the half point that clinched Europe’s first success on US soil in Colorado in 2013.
“I’ve always loved the Solheim Cup,” admitted the 50-year-old, who moved up to third on the all-time points list behind Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam after picking up three points from four matches as a late replacement for the match in Des Moines two years ago. “It’s been the highlight of my career every two years when it comes around. Some of my best moments have been in the Solheim.”
According to her vice-captains, Matthew has “everything” under control this week as she bids to foil an American bid to record three wins in a row. Her only headache so far had been the late arrival of Jodi Ewart Shadoff’s golf clubs, but, unlike Angel Yin on the opposing team, they are now here.
Anne Van Dam, Bronte Law and Celine Boutier, the three rookies in the home ranks for a match that starts on Friday on the PGA Centenary Course at the Perthshire venue, all spoke warmly of Matthew’s captaincy so far. “She’s very calm and trusts us doing our own thing,” said Van Dam. “She gets to the point and says what needs to be said in as few words as possible,” commented Law. “She’s very approachable,” added Boutier.
On Monday night, the European players took part in a light-hearted quiz before the room in the Gleneagles Hotel was filled with tears by a first motivational video of the week. “They don’t really need a ton of motivation,” insisted Matthew, “but it was good. It was quite a personal one actually with players’ families saying good luck messages to them. No one had seen it. I hadn’t seen it either. A few tears were shed in the room. I think it was a nice one.”
According to the bookmakers, the Americans are favourites on this occasion. Law, smiling, said that was “interesting” and it has also left Davies, pictured, one of Matthew’s vice-captains, scratching her head. “I think we’re the 2-1 outsiders, which I think is a good bet because I think our squad is really strong,” said the Englishwoman. “I think the world rankings have a lot to do with it, but I think home soil outweighs most things. We haven’t won away from home much, but we’ve done most of our winning on European soil and that has such a huge bearing.”
A record crowd of 80,000-plus is set to attend the event and, while some heavy recent rain has left the PGA Centenary Course playing long, the forecast for later in the week is decent, which Davies is pleased to hear. “If the weather is good, the galleries will be really noisy,” said the former world No 1. “Everyone says we want a bit of rain for the Americans. No, we want it beautiful weather, so the galleries can get out theer and enjoy themselves and just cheer us on and be the 13th man.”