Following Catriona Matthew’s appointment, a home captain will be in place for the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, but what are the chances of a Scot being in the European team for the event’s third staging in the home of golf? A betting man would probably say slim, but there is no denying they are a lot better than when Matthew, Scotland’s long-time No 1, effectively called time on her successful playing career in the transatlantic tussle.
Michele Thomson moved up a gear in the final few weeks of the Ladies European Tour season, in which Kelsey MacDonald also finished on a high, while Gemma Dryburgh arguably handed Scottish ladies’ golf its biggest boost in a decade by qualifying for the LPGA through the circuit’s gruelling Qualifying School in Florida.
It will be the first time Matthew has had company on the biggest stages in the women’s game since the days of Janice Moodie, Mhairi McKay and Kathryn Imrie and, in terms of timing, the opportunity could not be better for Dryburgh with that latest team event on Scottish soil looming on the horizon.
“Playing in the Solheim Cup has been one of my dreams since I first started watching both it and the Ryder Cup and, when I heard that the 2019 Solheim Cup would be played at Gleneagles, I said to myself: ‘You’ve got to be there in that team’,” said the 24-year-old. “It would be amazing to play a Solheim Cup anywhere, but it would be extra special to play for Europe on Scottish soil. To have secured my LPGA card now certainly is good timing as I’ll have next year to try to find my feet then try to kick on in 2019, when Catriona will be looking for players who are on form.”
Along with every other Scottish girl golfer to show promise over the past decade or so, Dryburgh has had the perfect role model in major winner and nine-time Solheim Cup player Matthew.
“All of us have looked up to Catriona for years and I feel like we need someone else, not to replace her but back her up,” said Dryburgh, who was born in Aberdeen and lived there until she was ten before her family moved down to the London area when her dad, John, started his own business. “In years to come I would love to be that person and hopefully I can be.”
If she does, it could be hard to make her home nation sit up and take notice. After all, Matthew, pictured, has always struggled in that respect, which is quite astonishing.
“Catriona doesn’t get the credit she deserves as it is amazing what she has achieved,” observed Dryburgh. “She keeps her card easily every year. She makes cuts. She’s a money-making machine.”
While Matthew was – and still is – a home bird as she came through the amateur ranks, Dryburgh’s path to the professional game included spending a fair bit of time on the other side of the Atlantic. After choosing golf over football, she got into the IMG Academy, a sports school that offers elite coaching as well as schooling, in Bradenton, Florida at the age of 15.
After two and a half years there, she went to Tulane University in New Orleans, playing in the 2014 Curtis Cup in Missouri during her time there.
“I think going to the US helped a lot in me securing my LPGA card,” she said. “I know the type of courses over there. I also feel comfortable over there. I feel as though it is almost a second home and maybe a few of the European girls don’t have that. I think it has stood me in good stead, both being at the IMG Academy then going to uni.
“While I maybe didn’t at the time, I think I now appreciate how lucky I was to attend the IMG Academy. It was a big opportunity for me to better myself and it’s the same with every sport there. I still work with one of the coaches there, Kevin Collins, while my coach in the UK is Lawrence Farmer, who is based in Bristol.”
Worth a record $68.75 million, the 2018 LPGA schedule starts in the Bahamas at the end of this month, with the Australian Open another early treat for Dryburgh before the circuit heads to Gullane in July for the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open.
“I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet, but it is starting to slowly, especially as I have been getting emails from the LPGA about next season,” said the player who now lives in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. “Managing my schedule isn’t something I’ve really had to deal with the last couple of years [due to the LET fixture list being threadbare], but it’s something I will need to look at carefully next season. That will be a new and good problem to have. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but the main goal is to keep my card the first year then see how things go.”
More experienced campaigners, including last year’s European No 1, Edinburgh-based American Beth Allen, have been quick to offer support. “Beth said to me in Dubai recently that she was there for me if I ever needed advice, so I will probably reach out to her. Catriona has also offered her advice and I will certainly be taking her up on that offer. To be playing the same tournaments as her week in, week out will be great.”