Matthew has hunger to be major player at the Open

After 20 years on tour it would be easy to assume that Catriona Matthew’s career is beginning to wind down. But far from it. The Scot is still at the height of her powers and ranks as one of the favourites for the Ricoh Women’s British Open starting tomorrow at Royal Birkdale.

Catriona Matthew. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The pick of her 11 victories from the two decades was the triumph in this major just a few miles north at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2009. Now she really has nothing left to prove and so could happily settle for a life of domesticity at home in North Berwick.

But the competitive juices are still flowing in torrents. Currently at No 15 in the world rankings, the 44-year-old has had top 11 finishes in this season’s two majors and has also had a couple of third places in the US and Thailand.

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A newly-wed when she first turned professional, Matthew and husband Graeme now have two daughters and life off the course has changed beyond recognition.

Since older daughter Katie started school two years ago, Graeme has handed over the majority of the caddying duties to American Verners Tess and he is now a stay-at-home dad.

“I’ve been very lucky,” said Matthew, who plays most of her golf in the US and Asia. “Obviously, I couldn’t have done it without Graeme’s help. He’s been so supportive and now he’s mostly at home looking after the children, which he’s finding harder work than caddying. When I am at home I probably don’t practise as much as before. But when Sophie starts school in August, I’ll have from nine to three to fit it in.”

Matthew’s major victory came at a period when the South Koreans were dominating the women’s game. But there is a whiff of change.

American Stacy Lewis won in this Championship at St Andrews last year, and Norway’s Suzanne Petersen (Evian Championship) and then the US pair of Lexi Thompson (Kraft Nabisco) and Michelle Wie (US Women’s Open) have followed her into the major winner’s circle. “You look at the first half of this year and see how many Americans have won and there’s definitely been a switch at the top,” said Lewis, who is in a blistering streak of form with three wins since May, plus a second to Wie at the US Open. “I think from the Solheim Cup [defeat] we have all been motivated and we’re finally answering the question ‘where are the Americans?’ It’s great to see and I think it’s a great thing for the LPGA Tour.”

Wie, runner-up to Thompson at the Kraft, agreed: “We got our butts kicked at the Solheim but now we have some great momentum. The American players all get on great and we really push each other.”

Wie has been through a lot – good and bad – since she played in her first Women’s British Open as a 15-year-old amateur at Birkdale in 2005. She finished third so has many fond memories of the Southport links. “I remember I played with Catriona and she had hand warmers,” recalled the 24-year-old from Hawaii. “I didn’t know what they were but I thought ‘that is so genius’. I think it was as cold as I have been on a golf course. But I loved it. It wouldn’t be the British Open without some bad weather. It’s awesome when I’m announced as the US Women’s Open Champion, it will never get old. But just because I have won one doesn’t guarantee anything. I am really excited about this week. This is my third time here and I’ve loved it every single time.”

Lewis admitted that she faces a completely different test from the one set at the Old Course last August. “The biggest difference here is the smaller greens and the fact you can’t just rip it with the driver,” said the 29-year-old Texan. “They key this week will be staying out of the rough. You could get away with a lot more at St Andrews.”

While Petra Kvitova’s cheque for winning the women’s title at Wimbledon last Saturday matched the £1,760,000 handed to Novak Djokovic on Sunday, the discrepancy between the genders in golf remains a gaping gulf.

The winner here will pocket £277,887. Whoever lifts the Claret Jug at the Open at Royal Liverpool on Sunday week will go home with £975,000.

But perhaps equality will come. Matthew certainly welcomes the decision by the Open organisers, the Royal and Ancient, to stage a for-or-against vote in September to allow the first women members. And would she like to be top of the list of invitations? “I’d be delighted, honoured.”