Solheim Cup: Catriona Matthew bidding to become Europe's history-maker
In the first of many press conferences she’ll conduct this week, Catriona Matthew was asked by a local media member in Toledo how she’d been chosen as Europe’s captain for the 17th Solheim Cup, which starts at Inverness Golf Club in the Ohio city on Saturday.
“I don't know,” replied Matthew, sitting in the media centre flanked by her three assistants, Laura Davies, Kathryn Imrie and Suzann Pettersen. “I wasn't in the choosing process, obviously, but they asked me to do it and obviously I was delighted.”
Matthew, of course, was being her humble self because the obvious reason she’s holding the European reins this week is down to the fact that she did such a brilliant job two years ago at Gleneagles that her re-appointment was a no-brainer.
After nine playing appearances in the biennial contest, that home captaincy in 2019 was richly-deserved and, boy, did the North Berwick woman dispel the odd fear that her quiet demeanour may not have been suited for the job.
Matthew made a bold decision in handing one of her captain’s picks to the aforementioned Pettersen, who had been ring rusty after a spell out of action due to motherhood but the Norwegian vindicated the faith shown in her by holing the winning putt with the eyes of the sporting world looking on at the end of an enthralling final day in Perthshire.
In leading her side to victory, Matthew denied Julie Inkster in her bid to captain three successive US victories in the biennial contest, with the Scot now facing a new opposite number in Pat Hurst.
Matthew can create history on Monday by becoming the first European captain to be a two-time winner in the event and just the third after Judy Rankin (1996 and 1998) and Inkster (2015 and 2017).
The 2009 Women’s Open champion is also bidding to become only the second European skipper to win on US soil, having already been part of history being made in a playing capacity in Colorado in 2013.
“It's great to finally be here,” admitted Matthew of the eagerly-awaited match. “Obviously a lot of preparation goes into it, so to see all the stands up and the crowds, the excitement is starting to build. I can't wait for Saturday to come, to be honest.”
Her side contains five survivors from the triumphant team at Gleneagles in Carlota Ciganda, Charley Hull, Georgia Hall, Anna Nordqvist and Celine Boutier, who delivered four points from four games as a rookie on the PGA Centenary Course.
Mel Reid, who was an assistant on that occasion, has swapped roles with Pettersen this time around, with the playing line up being completed by Matilda Castren, Nanna Koerstz Madsen, Leona Maguire, Emily Kritstine Pedersen, Sophia Popov and Madelene Sagstrom.
Led by world No 1 and Olympic champion Nelly Korda, the Americans are strong favourites with the bookmakers, but Matthew believes her players can take a lot of confidence from the final leaderboard in the recent AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie.
Not only did Nordqvist come out on top in the season’s final major on the Angus coast, but her nearest challengers included both Hall and Sagstrom while Koerstz Madsen also finished in the top five.
“That whole leaderboard at Carnoustie, with so many of the European players up there, was a boost for the players individually and a boost for the whole team,” said Matthew. “And for Anna, I think anytime you win a golf tournament, especially a major, it gives you a real boost of confidence.”
Hurst will be looking to the Korda sisters - Nelly and Jessica - to take up where they left off at Gleneagles, the pair having contributed seven of the 13.5 points for the vanquished Americans last time out.
“We are on home soil and the crowds are rooting for you, so there’s more eyes on Team USA but we are all embracing this,” said Nelly, a three-time LPGA Tour winner in 2021, including a breakthrough major in the Women’s PGA Championship.
“There is honestly nothing like a Solheim Cup with the crowds, the energy, the hype that we all have. I feel like we are the underdogs because they [Team Europe] are the ones defending. We’re ready for Saturday.”
Having delivered three points together two years ago, it seems certain that Hall and Boutier will be teamed up again for Europe over the opening couple of days, with Hull also likely to be earmarked by Matthew to play a key role as the English player makes her fifth appearance in the event at just 25.
“Between the four of us,” said the visiting skipper, referring to her three trusty assistants, “we have got kind of good ideas about pairings for the first few days and the mixture of foursomes, four-balls. It’s just a case of finalising them in the next couple of days. Not going to give any away, though.”
Hurst has hometown heroine and 2020 Women’s Scottish Open champion Stacy Lewis on her backroom team, which also includes Michelle Wie West and Angela Stanford while two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson has also been enrolled to help try and secure a home win.
“Bubba called a couple weeks ago, saying he just wanted to help women's golf out,” said Hurst. “He's got a wife, he's got a daughter, and he loves golf and he just wants to support women's golf.
“It’s been a lot of fun having him in the locker room hearing his take on a lot of the things, and a lot of times we have to tell him, ‘hey, men and women are a little bit different and I think he's definitely seeing that.
“But we're all enjoying him around, players, caddies. We're asking him a ton of questions and it seems like he's having just as much fun as we are with him around.”
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