Solheim Cup: Catriona Matthew on Gleneagles pressure & speeches
|Venue: Gleneagles, Perthshire Dates: 13-15 September|
|Coverage: Follow all three days live across the BBC|
Catriona Matthew has known the pressure of delivering down the stretch in a major championship. She's known the heat of competition in the Solheim Cup. She's been on tour for almost a quarter of a century. She's seen pretty much everything there is to see in the game.
And yet, as captain of Europe with just over a month ago to before the grand showdown with the USA at Gleneagles, she's in new territory. Upon Sunday's conclusion of the Ladies Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club, Matthew and her vice-captains - Laura Davies, Suzann Pettersen and Dundonian Kathryn Imrie - will retreat to a bunker of a different kind to complete the selection process for the team that will go up against the Americans, winners of the Cup four years ago in Germany and winners again two years ago in Iowa. On Monday, Matthew will reveal four wildcard picks, to add to eight automatic qualifiers.
Since the inception of the Solheim Cup in 1990, it's been held in Scotland twice, at Dalmahoy in 1992 and at Loch Lomond in 2000. Europe won both times. That stat is not lost on the 2019 captain. "It's not often as European captain that you actually get to do it in your home country," says Matthew. After Swedes Helen Alfredsson and Catrin Nilsmark and Scotland's Dale Reid, she will be the fourth.
"If we win, it'll be right up there with my best days in golf, including winning the British Open 10 years ago. It's a great honour, but there's definitely going to be extra extra pressure. I don't think we've ever lost in Scotland, so more pressure on me there.
"Obviously I've played in quite a few of these, but this is a completely different thing. As captain, you're on the sidelines, you're watching. I'll now get the perspective that my poor mum and dad had for all those years walking around and watching me play.
"The setting of the mood is a big part of my job. Getting a nice relaxed atmosphere is vital. Getting the team all gelling together is probably the most important thing. We've spent a lot of time thinking about pairings - matching the right personalities with the right golf games with the right golf ball. It's key that you're comfortable with the person you're playing with. If you're not all that comfortable then you're going to be a little bit on edge."
Lack of Scots is 'disappointing'
It all begins on Friday, 13 September at Gleneagles, where Matthew's equivalent, Paul McGinley, led his team to victory in the 2014 Ryder Cup.
This promises to be a whole lot more difficult. The USA won't name their team until later in the month, but they'll be strong. Currently they have five players in the world's top-20, whereas Europe has one. The visitors have 14 in the top-50. Europe has only six. Of the 21 leading bookmaking firms in Britain and Ireland, all 21 make the Americans odds-on favourites.
Matthew's Solheim Cup story is an epic one. She has played in nine of them. She's won the decisive match, she's lost the decisive match. She's qualified by right, she's qualified by way of a captain's pick. Only her co-captain Davies has played in the event more times. Only Davies and Annika Sorenstam have won more points.
At 46, she was the oldest player in Germany in 2015 but she won three points out of four. She was the oldest in Des Moines in 2017 and, although Europe got taken out by a five-point winning margin, Matthew again won 75% of her matches. The event triggers something in her in the way that the Ryder Cup triggered something in Colin Montgomerie. Since her debut at Muirfield Village, Ohio, in 1998, she's contributed 22 points.
There is, of course, zero chance of a Scot being in her team. If she was to use one of her captain's picks to select the Scottish player with the highest world ranking then she'd be picking herself - aged 49, going on 50 in August. "It's pretty disappointing," she says of the lack of a breakthrough talent in all these years. "I don't know how long I've been the highest-ranked Scot, but it's been a while. A few have come and gone but none have made it to the next level.
"To get to the top in anything it's not just about pure talent. It's that hidden thing no-one can quite put their finger on. I mean, you could walk down the range at a tournament nowadays and everyone hits it great, but it's that inner belief, that inner desire that gets you there. You have to have that killer instinct inside you.
"I always think that if you can get a crop of two or three or four who'll push each other on then you're going places. I had that when I first came out on tour. That kind of friendly rivalry is great. We're getting it with the boys with Bob MacIntyre and Connor Syme. A few more are coming up. The results are definitely encouraging on the mens's side. We need that with the girls as well."
'You can't prepare a player for it'
She says her memory of her nine Solheim Cups is sketchy. She remembers feelings more than shots. She remembers stories rather than any particular stroke she played or witnessed. If somebody had told her at Muirfield Village that she'd still be winning points almost 20 years later, she'd have called for the medics to attend to the person as an emergency.
"In my very first match, foursomes in 1998, I had Annika as a partner. She told me I had to hit the first shot. People ask me, 'Why didn't she hit it given all her experience?' I say, 'That was her using all her experience!' The first shot, it's hard to describe what that feels like. You can't really prepare a player for it. You just have to go through it. I remember hitting the fairway. I made contact. I was happy with that.
"Playing in nine of them, I suppose it shows how good I've managed to be for that long, I've always loved the Solheim Cup, I've always loved the team element. You really do make great friendships with people you might meet week-to-week but you don't really get to know them until you're suddenly thrown together in a Solheim Cup. Then you become a team and it's very special."
Matthew lost that Solheim Cup in Ohio then missed the next two in highly controversial circumstances when fellow Scot Dale Reid didn't pick her. Those snubs made her reappearance, and first victory, all the sweeter in 2003 at Barseback in Sweden. What made it sweeter still was that Matthew secured the winning point in a singles match against Rosie Jones, the American veteran with 13 LPGA tour wins under her belt and 25 top-10 finishes in major championships.
"It was my greatest high in the Solheim Cup. I think that was probably one of the first times where we got really huge crowds. I remember the whole team running down the fairway following our match. I'm usually pretty hopeless at remembering shots, but I do remember that hole, the 17th, a straightaway par-four, tree-lined, back down towards the water. I hit a great drive and then an 8 iron, probably up to 15 feet. I can still see that shot. Rosie had missed the green and then conceded the putt and I won and that was the point that secured the Solheim Cup.
"My team-mate Sophie Gustafson rushed on and nearly knocked me over. I've been on both sides of it. I've gone from everyone running to hug you to everyone just standing there with glum faces, but that's golf. You soon get over it."
Matthew concedes that on the world rankings, Europe are the underdogs at Gleneagles. That's all she's conceding, though. "There's a lot to be done before the golf starts. A lot of speeches. I'm not the greatest speechmaker. I can think of great speeches while I'm lying there trying to get to sleep but doing it in front of a huge audience is a bit different. We just can't wait for the golf to start. We'll have a fantastic team and we're all really up for it."