Matthew eager for shot at gold as she enters the twilight of glittering career
In truth, Catriona Matthew probably felt she’d get to 46 and be preparing for her 22nd season in the professional ranks with nothing left on the bucket list, but that’s certainly not the case heading towards 2016.
Golf’s return to the Olympic Games in Brazil next summer after a gap of more than 110 years is galvanising the North Berwick woman as she enters the twilight of her glittering career, one which will earn a fitting reward when she earns a Scottish Golf Lifetime Achievement accolade in March.
“Rio will be a big goal of mine next year and it’s in my hands,” said Matthew, referring to the fact she is currently occupying one of the two spots up for grabs in the Great Britain women’s golf team. At 42nd in the world rankings, England’s Charley Hull is in pole position to make that side, with the main challengers to 67th-ranked Matthew likely to be Hull’s compatriots, Mel Reid and Holly Clyburn, who are 83rd and 92nd respectively.
“If I go out and play well in the opening half of the year, I should make it,” added the 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, who has heard the likes of former men’s world No 1 Adam Scott saying he has no desire to be going for golfing gold but said she is open-minded about the opportunity.
“Whether golf should be in the Olympics is a matter of opinion and I’m probably on the fence, but for me, as I come towards the end of my career, it is a great opportunity. It’s the only chance I’m going to have to compete in an Olympics,” said Matthew.
“It’s difficult to say how winning Olympic gold would be to winning the Women’s British Open.
“Right now, I’d say the major and, to be honest, I’d rather probably win a US Women’s Open. But that might change in the eyes of players once golf has been part of the Olympics for a few years. Who knows, it could become the biggest thing in the women’s game and I’d certainly like to win a medal in it. It has got to be good for golf in general, too, because a lot more countries are putting money into the game these days purely because it’s an Olympic sport.”
Matthew made her eighth Solheim Cup appearance this year in Germany. She’s not necessarily finished yet as playing goes in that biennial contest, but, for the 2019 match at Gleneagles, her target is the captaincy on home soil.
“I wouldn’t say next year is going to necessarily be my last hurrah,” insisted the mother of two. “I’m not someone who sets deadlines. I just take each year as it comes. The travelling isn’t easy. That makes it more difficult and competition is also tougher. Lydia Ko, for instance, is amazing. To think how young she must have started to be that good is quite frightening, really.
“But, as long as I’m enjoying it and playing well, I will still be out there. I’m in the gym four times a week these days. You’ve got to be fit to keep up with these youngsters, especially when you are 30 years older than some of them!
“I suppose the person I look to in terms of longevity on Tour is Julie Inkster. She’s probably played and stayed competitive on Tour longer than anyone else. I think as you get older you need to keep in shape. I think you can see that from the ones that do well later in their careers.
“I think playing in the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in 2019 might be a little too far away, to be honest. After playing in it eight times, I think the captaincy would be a natural progression. We’ll see what happens in two years’ time first, but it is certainly a possibility.”
If Matthew is at Europe’s helm – and that surely seems to be a perfectly sensible and likely scenario – then she intends to have learned something from the unsavoury events that tarnished this year’s contest at St Leon Rot.
“I don’t think what happened in the Solheim Cup was damaging,” said the Scot of one of her team-mates, Suzann Pettersen, sparking unprecedented scenes of rancour and uproar after American Alison Lee mistakenly believed a 16-inch putt had been conceded by her opponents. “It was trending at No 1 on Twitter and I wouldn’t say that was damaging. Suzann, of course, took a lot of flak – too much in my opinion. It was just unfortunate as it overshadowed the good golf that had been played. It is difficult when you are right in the thick of it. In hindsight, though, I think the captains could probably have handled it a bit better. If you are doing the captaincy, that is something you could learn from.
“I think it will have fizzled out by the time the next match comes around. In fact, I don’t think there is a lingering ill feeling about it, to be honest. The Americans won, so they are quite happy. If they’d been beaten, it might have lingered a bit longer.”