Pros advice

Catriona and the Solheim Cup – a match made in heaven

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Sport likes to throw up a romance, doesn’t it?

There’s always a story – a dream, a fairytale. Some are contrived, some are accidental.

Some, though, are just meant to be.

Catriona Matthew captaining Europe’s Solheim Cup mission, on Scottish soil in two years’ time, feels like one of those.

Cut the 48-year-old open and she’d probably bleed blue and yellow.

Nine times she has represented the continent in the competition, an event that has grown out of all proportion in her two decades of participation.

Des Moines rookie Georgia Hall was a babe in arms when Matthew first teed off in European colours in 1998 at Muirfield Village. Now the tale has come full circle.

So what a finish it could be, to put the seal on such a grand career – a major-winning career no less – by wresting the cup back from the United States at Gleneagles.

She’ll have plenty of backing. The Scots love nothing more than a hometown hero and if Des Moines seemed raucous, then Perthshire could be off the charts in support of the North Berwick native.

“It’s a great honour and a dream come true to be the captain at home in Scotland,” she said after being unveiled.

“Since my first appearance in 1998, I have always loved playing in the Solheim Cup. It’s always such an incredible atmosphere and, over the years, I have enjoyed it more and more.

Catriona

“Scotland will provide the perfect stage in 2019 and Gleneagles will be a terrific venue.”

Not that Matthew necessarily sees the Solheim as some kind of fitting climax – a potential career-ending crescendo.

Nor does she feel that the burden of skippering will dim her desire to compete. She plans to play a similar schedule to the last few years over the next 20-odd months, while adding “a few more European Tour events”.

But as happy endings go, this would be a good one.

Her days as a Solheim player are over, ending on a high with three points – and a stirring singles comeback over Stacy Lewis – after she was pitched into the fray following Suzann Pettersen’s back injury last month.

That she played at all was fortuitous. She didn’t make the original selection and, after tumbling down the world rankings, wasn’t selected as a wildcard by Annika Sorenstam.

Instead, she was a vice-captain, aiming to get a look behind the administrative scenes with her own tilt at the top job clearly in the offing.

It’s a testament, though, to her desire and grit that she overcame some mediocre form – her best finish on the LPGA Tour this season is tied 30th – to play in such grand fashion.

And she believes she learned enough, seeing the Solheim Cup from a different angle, before that twist of fate saw her pick up a set of clubs instead of an earpiece.

“I was assistant captain (in) the whole run up from when Annika was announced. It was really just the last three days that I switched out roles. I obviously learned a lot from her and, being more involved behind the scenes, you pick up a lot.

“It was good to do that and have a slight idea of what I’ve let myself in for.”

Captaincy, of course, is a whole different thing.

There are speeches to make – “I can’t wait to do that” she said wryly – and skippers are meant to leave no stone unturned in a relentless quest for success.

Organisation, Matthew admits, is an area where she’s has got room for improvement.

“I don’t do much organising. I leave that to other people to organise me. Graeme (her husband) keeps me on the straight and narrow. He does all the bookings and most of that stuff. All I have to do is trot from one flight to the next and try and play golf. Easy life, really.”

So Graeme’s going to be a vice-captain then?

“I don’t think so, no.”

But if the European recipe for success in the Ryder Cup has been the equivalent of football’s boot room – exposing potential occupants to as many influences as possible before they ascend into the hot seat – then Matthew has also trodden a similar path.

She’s played for seven different Solheim captains and found something to pick up from each.

“You take little bits from each one,” Matthew explained. “Annika is freshest in the memory and she was super organised.

“She had something for every scenario that could happen. So, from her, she obviously was very organised and you have to be

“Helen (Alfredsson) was very fun as a captain. Alison (Nicholas) just involved the whole team. Everyone had different traits. From the most recent ones, you take a little more because that’s fresher in your mind.”

So the pinnacle of Matthew’s Solheim Cup career, perhaps her whole career, awaits on Gleneagles’ fairways.

For a player, like Sorenstam, like Dame Laura Davies, so associated with the event, a home win wouldn’t just be fitting.

It would be a match made in heaven.


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