Catriona Matthew was a “young whippersnapper from North Berwick” when Kathryn Imrie first came across her 30 years ago. Close friends ever since, the pair are now set to join forces to try to plot how Europe can regain the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles next September.
Imrie, a 51-year-old US-based Dundondian, has been picked by Matthew as one of her vice-captains for the match in Perthshire, getting an early shout for that role from the North Berwick woman along with Norway’s Suzann Pettersen.
A third and final spot on Matthew’s backroom team will not be filled into early next year, but the 48-year-old is delighted with her first two selections, with Imrie having seemed to be a lock on for one of the captain’s calls due to their friendship from careers that have run parallel.
“Do you wanted the edited version or the real version?” asked a smiling Matthew, interjecting, after Imrie had been asked by The Scotsman if she could remember the first time she’d met her compatriot and could tell some stories about the times they’d enjoyed together over the years.
Taking her chance to answer, Imrie said: “I do remember people talking about this young whippersnapper from North Berwick that was supposed to be pretty handy, and I think it might have been at a Scottish Schools Championship or Scottish Women’s Match Play. And obviously from very early on it was clear that Catriona was going to be a contender at any stage as she went forward.”
Turning to Matthew, who has proved that, of course, by going on to win a major and play in nine Solheim Cups, as they sat in the media centre at Gullane, venue for this week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, Imrie added: “And one of my favourite stories about Catriona is her wedding when I was dancing with your dad. I said, ‘Catriona is thinking about turning pro’, and he said, ‘I don’t think she’ll make it’. And I said, ‘Oh, I think she’ll be fine’. That was quite a funny story.”
As was Imrie ending Matthew’s squash career. “We played a lot of sports together as young people. ‘Beany’ was a really good badminton player. We also played squash, and I think I whacked her across the knee. I think Graeme [Matthew’s husband] was the one that said, ‘OK, no more squash after that’. But we’ve really done a lot of things and just grew up together, and this is just such a proud moment for me and for Scotland really to have two people involved in the 2019 Solheim Cup.”
Imrie, who mainly coaches these days and is former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s swing guru, won the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic on the LPGA Tour in 1995, the year before she played in the Solheim Cup at St Pierre in Wales. She was also a travelling reserve for the match two years before that in the US and, having been a “helper” as well on a number of occasions, knows the event inside out. It took her a “nanosecond” to say “yes” to assisting Matthew in Perthshire.
“That this is just basically what I’ve always wanted to be doing,” she replied to being asked what she thought in that nanosecond. “When Catriona was selected [as captain] I was like, ‘Well, I wonder if I am going to get the nod’. I wasn’t sure. So I was surprised, I suppose, just pleased, because that phone call could have been anything. Could have been saying, I’m actually going to pick X, Y or Z for this and, unfortunately, you’re not going to be one. But, luckily, it was what I was wanting to hear.
“I have a huge respect and honour for Catriona, and we’ve played on most of these teams together, and hopefully I can help her execute her plan. My role is like a jack-of-all-trades really and that’s going to be the fun part. I’d like to think that come September next year, we’ll have left no stone unturned and have left nothing to chance to pick the best team that’s going to get this cup back.”
Matthew described her appointments as “getting the ball rolling” said of Marshall: “Anyone who plays at a top level is a fierce competitor, but I think Kathryn also has such a bubbly personality and enthusiasm and I think it is important to have that light atmosphere in the team-room.”
Matthew, who’d travelled to Iowa as one of Annika Sorenstam’s vice-captains, was thrust into a playing role in Des Moines after Pettersen picked up an injury. Sidelined again at the moment, though due to being well into a pregnancy on this occasion, the former world No 2 could be a playing vice captain at Gleneagles. “If Suzann is going to be playing she’ll take a back-seat role once there and kind of be the leader on the golf course of the team,” said Matthew. “It’s just getting everyone to gel together is the main thing.”