Catriona Matthew, the European Solheim Cup captain, believes she’ll be retired by the time women are playing for the same prize money as men, saying that process needs to be kick-started in the majors.
While women and men in tennis have earned equal prize money at Wimbledon since 2007, the gender gap is still glaring in golf, as was illustrated by the respective pots for the Open Championship and Women’s British Open last year.
The men’s event at Carnoustie boasted a prize fund of £7.7 million compared to £2.8 million for the women’s equivalent at Royal Lytham, with the two winners, Francesco Molinari and Georgia Hall, picking up cheques for just under £1.4m and less than £370,000 respectively.
Both those events are now under the R&A umbrella and, speaking last week, chief executive Martin Slumbers said the St Andrews-based organisation had a “deep responsibility to significantly close” the pay gap in golf.
At the same time, however, he said that it wouldn’t be a case of the R&A simply throwing money at the Women’s British Open and that “improving the pyramid underneath the women’s game” was the key, with Hall having been appointed as an ambassador by the governing body to help in that respect.
Matthew offered her view on the matter as she spent some time with Hannah Darling, one of Scotland’s most-promising junior golfers, to mark today being International Women’s Day, as well as tomorrow being six months exactly to the start of Solheim Cup week at Gleneagles.
Asked if equal prize money was on the cards in golf, the 2009 Women’s British Open champion replied: “Not in my playing lifetime, I wouldn’t have thought. I think it would be great to see. I think probably the first tournaments that could do it would be the Opens and US Opens.
“If the USGA and R&A started that initiative by making the prize money for the Opens and US Opens the same, that would probably encourage other tournaments to do it.”
Matthew played in last month’s Vic Open, which offered equal prize-money for men and women as they played in separate events simultaneously on the same course, with David Law claiming the men’s title.
“The Vic Open was good fun,” said Matthew. “It was the first time it had fitted in my schedule, so it was the first time I’d played in it. It is good when you can get more interaction with the men. I think it is good for golf when everyone comes together like that.”
Darling, who plays her golf at Broomieknowe, is Scotland’s leading contender for the PING Junior Solheim Cup, which also takes place at Gleneagles in September in the build up to the main event.
She was one of six young Scots to launch their own #Project19 initiative and, in an effort to help home hopefuls in their bid to make the European team in Perthshire, a new fund was recently set up by the 2019 Solheim Cup Golf Development Programme and Scottish Golf.
During a visit to North Berwick, Matthew’s home club, Darling played a few holes with the Scottish No 1 caddying for her as she passed on words of wisdom from her glittering career, which includes nine Solheim Cup appearances.
“I was very impressed with Hannah,” said Matthew of the player who, on the strength of back-to-back wins in the Scottish Girls Championship and also claiming the inaugural Girls Under-16 Open title last year, is shaping up to be a successor as Scottish No 1.
“She hit the ball really well. It was the first time I’d seen her play and hopefully she will make the Junior Solheim Cup team. I haven’t seen many of the other contenders play, but I was certainly impressed with Hannah.
“Hannah is 15. When I was her age, I was lucky to be a member at Gullane and there was a lot of Scottish internationalists who played there at the time. The likes of Fiona Anderson, Jane Ford etc and it was great experience for me to play with people like that.
“It would be such a great story to have a Scottish player in the Junior Solheim Cup team and it’s great that a fund has been set up this year to help the likes of Hannah. We have struggled to produce some good, quality players and it would be great to see her get in and then use that as a springboard to kick her career on.”