Having ploughed a lone furrow on the biggest stage in women’s golf for the best part of a decade, Catriona Matthew is delighted she’ll have Gemma Dryburgh for company on the LPGA next season after the Aberdonian’s recent card success at the circuit’s Qualifying School.
Dryburgh, a 24-year-old who is based in Buckinghamshire, passed the gruelling test at LPGA International at Daytona Beach in Florida with flying colours, finishing joint-13th in a battle among 165 players for 20 coveted spots on a circuit that will be worth a record $68.75 million in 2018.
Matthew, Scotland’s long-time No 1, has played most of her golf on the LPGA since 1995, winning four times, including the 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open, and wasn’t alone in flying the Saltire on the US-based circuit in the early part of a glittering career.
For a spell, in fact, four Scots were LPGA card holders, with Matthew joining Kathryn Imrie, who blazed a trail across the Atlantic in 1993, before the pair were backed up from 1998 onwards by Janice Moodie and Mhairi McKay. Imrie, who played under her married name of Marshall for a spell, won the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic in 1995; Moodie claimed the ShopRite LPGA Classic in 2000 and the Asahi Ryokuken International Championship two years later; while McKay triumphed in the 2003 Australian Women’s Open.
“It has not been since Janice, Mhairi and Kathryn played that Scotland has had more than one representative on the LPGA with full cards – Vikki Laing had a conditional status on and off – so it will be nice finally to have two,” said Matthew of Dryburgh’s achievement. “Gemma has played very consistently all year and that’s what a Qualifying School is about. You need to be steady and avoid big numbers and just be patient. She showed a lot of ambition and drive to go through the whole qualifying process.
“It is a also good thing to get your card this year as the qualification system all changes next year for the 2019 season. It is becoming like the [men’s] PGA Tour, so the only way you can get a card is via the Symetra Tour [the LPGA’s development circuit].”
Wearing her Solheim Cup captain’s hat, Matthew was also pleased to see Georgia Hall earn her LPGA card for the first time, believing the tougher tests it provides can only help the promising young English player go from strength to strength after topping the LET Order of Merit this season.
“Georgia has been playing well all year and it was really no surprise that she came through the Qualifying School,” added the North Berwick woman, speaking at an Aberdeen Standard Investments golf clinic. “It’s the natural next step for her to play with the best players week in, week out and she has the game and attitude to do well.
“It is amazing, really, that she has not yet won as a professional. Certainly how she played at the Solheim Cup this year, it looks as though she could be a great player. Hopefully she will come back and play in some LET events as well next season as I think the schedule, from what I’ve heard anyway, is going to be a lot better and hopefully that comes to fruition.”
Matthew recently paid her first visit to Gleneagles since being appointed as Annika Sorenstam’s successor in September and the 48-year-old is confident the 2019 Solheim Cup – the third staging of the event in the home of golf – will be every bit as successful at the five-star Perthshire resort as the Ryder Cup four years ago.
“I just went up to have a look and it went really well,” she said. “With Gleneagles having already staged the Ryder Cup, they know what they are doing and will also have learned certain things they might do differently.
“I played the course in May for the first time since it had not long opened and I thought it was a lot better following changes that had been made to it for the Ryder Cup. The run-offs that were introduced by Paul McGinley are really good. I enjoyed it and thought it was a good golf course.”
One of Matthew’s next tasks in preparation for the 2019 match will be picking her vice captains. “It’s a bit early,” she said when asked about that aspect of her job. “I’ve had a few thoughts about who I might ask, but it will be spring next year when we will announce a couple. I wouldn’t like to say just yet.”