Will Catriona Matthew’s Suzann Pettersen gamble pay off at Gleneagles?

Catriona Matthew will lead Europe into battle at the Solheim Cup in Gleneagles this week. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Catriona Matthew will lead Europe into battle at the Solheim Cup in Gleneagles this week. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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Catriona Matthew may be the quiet type, but she certainly stirred up some noise in the build up to the 16th Solheim Cup. Even now, with the match at Gleneagles almost upon us, the European captain’s decision to pick Suzann Pettersen is one of the main talking points heading into the eagerly-awaited contest.

To say the Norwegian is lightly-raced as she prepares to go into battle against Juli Inkster’s United States side is something of an under-statement. The 38-year-old has only made three individual appearances and four in total since November 2017. She’d initially been named as one of Matthew’s vice-captains for the match in Perthshire, but is now set for a ninth playing appearance in the biennial bout.

Matthew is adamant that she has made the right decision, and the bold call has the full support of Kathryn Imrie, her long-time friend and set to assist the North Berwick woman next week as one of her 
vice-captains along with Laura Davies and Mel Reid.

“Catriona is 100 per cent confident with the team she’s picked and I think it’s the right one,” said 52-year-old Imrie, pictured inset, who was born in Dundee and played her amateur golf at Monifieth. Referring to Pettersen being handed a wildcard along with English duo Bronte Law and Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Celine Boutier from France, she added: “There was obviously a bit of an issue over the last one and the meeting went on a bit longer than we had anticipated. But we are making big decisions and it’s not something we take lightly. But it’s one we are all confident about and we think it’s a really strong team.

“People questioned it [Pettersen’s selection] for reasons best known to themselves, but she brings so much to the team room and the team. It was a bit of a strange situation. Suzann is extremely happy in her life now [after becoming a mother during her absence from golf] and, all of a sudden, she wanted to get back into the golf.

“She’s too young and too good to walk off into the sunset and be a mum, in my opinion anyway. She’s got the bit between her teeth again. It’s a bit like the Adam Scott situation when Greg Norman picked him for the Presidents Cup and that sort of turned his career around and I can see that happening with Suzann.”

Following her selection, Pettersen said of the Solheim Cup: “I feel like I was born for this.” Inkster is cut from the same cloth in that respect and, therefore, understands why Matthew has taken what some people have viewed as a gamble.

“It surprised me a little but only because she hadn’t played that much,” said the seven-time major winner, who is captaining the US team for an unprecedented third time after back-to-back victories in 2015 and 2017. “But it didn’t surprise me as far as team leadership is concerned, not only in the team room but also out on the course. Catriona must like Suzann in there. It was a little bit of a surprise but she’s Suzann Pettersen and she gets up for this stuff. It’s right in her wheelhouse.”

Pettersen has played on three winning Solheim Cup teams but was also involved in one of the event’s most controversial moments in the 2015 match in Germany. Partnering English player Charley Hull, she left the US team furious after enforcing a penalty on rookie Alison Lee, who had wrongly picked up a short putt in the belief a concession had been granted on the 17th green.

Not only did the European pair go on to claim a point for Europe, but Pettersen showed no regret in the immediate aftermath of the match before later apologising after her conduct had been branded a “disgrace to the sport”.

Matthew believes that is now water under the bridge, especially after the match in Des Moines two years ago was played in great spirit among the players in both teams, and, by the sounds of things, Inkster agrees with that sentiment.

“I moved on the next day,” insisted Inkster. “We all look back on things on our life you wish you could maybe have done a little differently and I’m sure she feels that way. I don’t have any ill effects whatsoever and the last Solheim was great sportsmanship. We didn’t have any issues. Beany [Matthew] and I are also good friends and I don’t think we are going to have any issues whatsoever.”

Interest in the event has guaranteed a record crowd for a match on this side of the Atlantic, with an attendance of 80,000-plus set to beat the figure at St Leon Rot in Germany four years ago. Having played in nine matches, Matthew is a worthy captain on home soil, especially after she was controversially overlooked by compatriot Dale Reid for the 2000 encounter at Loch Lomond.

“We are all behind her and she’s done a great job so far and it’s only going to get better,” added Imrie, who is now based in the US, where she won the won Jamie Farr Toledo Classic on the LPGA Tour in 1995, the year before she made her only Solheim Cup appearance at St Pierre in Wales. “Catriona is a natural leader. Just the way her golfing is, she is very unassuming and quietly confident about what she does. She is super smart and makes the right decisions in a calm way. I think she is just going to demand respect.”

On her role at Gleneagles, Imrie added: “I had been away from it for a bit and I was 50/50 whether Beany was going to pick me. But I got back into it right away. We’ve always been close, but Beany and I have got a lot closer the last couple of years. It’s about a lot of little things – not just the team – like the Facetime chats about where the team room is going to go and how are we going to lay out the hotel, the uniform and the gala dinner, a list of aspects.”

l Juli Inkster is an ambassador of Aberdeen Standard Investments – proud Global Partner of The 2019 Solheim Cup.