Backing from her players more than anything else was behind Catriona Matthew’s decision to go again as Europe’s Solheim Cup captain, even though she concedes that tasting victory first time around on Scottish soil in a sensational finish will probably be impossible to top.
After taking “three or four weeks” in the wake of September’s 14½-13½ victory at Gleneagles to decide if she was up for the job again, the 50-year-old North Berwick woman has been re-appointed by the Ladies European Tour for the 2021 match at Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio.
She will be bidding to become the first European captain to record multiple wins in the biennial event, the Americans having been defeated only once on home soil in eight matches – in Colorado in 2013.
In one of her nine playing appearances, Matthew secured Europe’s victory on that occasion, an experience she reckons will stand her in good stead in just under two years’ time, when the match will conclude on a Monday due to it being Labor Day Weekend in the US.
However, as she mulled over whether or not she really wanted to keep her Solheim Cup story open instead of leaving Gleneagles, where Suzann Pettersen holed a six-foot putt in the final match to clinch a dramatic win, as a thrilling final chapter, it was the encouragament from those players that ended up swaying her decision.
“You wouldn’t think anything could top winning here,” said Matthew, speaking as she returned to Gleneagles on a gorgeous autumn day. “Winning in Scotland was a dream come true, especially, the way it finished. But backing that up with a win in America, and maybe it will come down to the last putt again, would be even better.
“Winning as a player in Colorado didn’t really influence my decision to take the captaincy again. A lot of the players had indicated that they’d like me to do it again and, if you have the backing of the players, that’s always nice. That was probably what tipped it, the fact so many wanted me to do it again.
“I don’t know about pressure in America. I never felt huge pressure in this one. I never hit a shot. If you are playing, there’s a huge amount of pressure. But, as captain, I just really enjoyed it and soaked up all the atmosphere. But, as competitive people, you are going there wanting to win and it was fantastic that we did that. I probably enjoyed it more than I thought I would.”
Matthew will again have fellow Scot Kathryn Imrie and English legend Laura Davies as her vice-captains along with Pettersen, who was set to fill that role at Gleneagles before she was handed a wild card, which she vindicated by digging deep in what turned out to be the decisive singles match against Marina Alex.
“It’s great having the same vice captains again. We all contributed different things and there was a good atmosphere in the team room,” said Matthew. “I think the main thing of captaincy is communication. The players like to know as much as they can about what is going on and why you’ve made certain decisions and I tried to tell them.
“Rather than just saying ‘you are not playing’ or ‘we are doing this’, I tried to tell them why I had made the decision. I spoke or messaged all of them afterwards and asked them for their thoughts on how it developed over the three days.
“For the pairings and the order, you can over-analyse. The singles line-up only took the four of us ten minutes to work out. At the end of the day, you can second-guess yourself and think ‘they are going to do this’ and ‘they are going to do that’ but to be honest we never really thought much about how they were going to put out their team. We just concentrated on what we were going to do with our team.
“The best decision was probably the Georgia [Hall]-Celine [Boutier] pairing, which is probably not surprising given they won three out of three. I tried to go on the whole with similar personalities, more so than perhaps styles of play. We had probably thought of that one a wee while before.”
By the time the 2021 match comes around – Juli Inkster’s successor as US captain has not yet been named, with Cristie Kerr a possible candidate – the Ladies European Tour could be owned by the US-based LPGA, with talks to that effect having resumed last month. According to Matthew, the exact plans will soon be revealed to LET members.
“In Spain in a couple of weeks, I think they are presenting the proposal and I also think there is going to be a vote on it,” she said, “Until you see all the details, it is difficult to give a complete answer how I feel about it. But I don’t think it would have any bearing on the Solheim Cup because, at the end of the day, it is a European team. If you born in Europe and are a member of the LET, then you are eligible for it.”