When Matthew talks Europe’s players listen
Calm captain backed to prevent US Solheim Cup three-peat, writes James Corrigan at Gleneagles
Awry smirk appeared on Catriona Matthew’s face at Gleneagles yesterday when Dame Laura Davies mischievously questioned whether America should be “such strong favourites” to win the Solheim Cup this week.
And the Europe captain even managed to stifle a guffaw when her garlanded assistant declared that the home team were out to stop the visitors from winning their third match in succession – “if only because they keep going on about that ‘three-peat’ thing”.
Matthew will leave others in her backroom to issue the barbs in the biennial event’s traditional phoney war before it tees off in Perthshire on Friday. When it comes to her leadership skills, the quiet Scot is more Bernhard Langer than Seve Ballesteros. The 50-year-old will command by respect, not by theatrics.
That image is already part of this encounter’s narrative with one journalist referring to Matthew as “Clark Kent”, which is ironic seeing as she was hailed as “Supermum” when winning the Women’s British Open just 11 weeks after giving birth in 2009.
“With her it’s just calmness and always has been,” Davies said. “But she’s a fierce competitor, make no mistake about that. She wants to win this more than any of us. She’s
put a lot into this the last two years. Yet she never shows anything.”
Matthew’s proper nickname is “Beany”. Her brother struggled to say “Catriona”, and called her “Treany” instead. From Treany came Beany and from that children’s course in North Berwick – inevitably known as “The Wee Course” – emerged Scotland’s most successful female player.
Never the longest off the tee, Matthew reached eighth in the world through the strength of her psyche and the belligerence of her consistency. Her personality matches her game – not showy, but admired. “Beany might not be the loudest or the type to make grand statements,” Davies said. “But she is measured and thoughtful and when she says something, you listen.”
Certainly, Davies did when Matthew asked her to be her vice-captain. It was quite the turnaround, as a few months earlier Davies had insisted she never wanted to be in the teamroom in any role other than player. “For some reason, the top golfers lose the ability to function for one week every two years, and it would drive me insane to go and get bananas on the third green,” Davies had said.
But when Beany came calling, Dame Laura suddenly decided the cap fits and do not be shocked to see Davies on fruit duty. “I will do anything Beany asks me to do,” she said. “Although at the moment she has everything organised.”
With Matthew, the preparation always was going to be key. She met up with Paul Mcginley – the Irishman who led Europe to their memorable Ryder Cup victory at Gleneagles five years ago – on three occasions in the build-up and has taken advice from Thomas Bjorn, the winning 2018 captain, and Sam Torrance, the winning 2002 captain. In truth, however, Matthew has seen it all for herself. She has Solheim experience written all over her CV, with nine appearances, three of which were in winning teams. Matthew knows the formidable challenge of lowering the Stars and Stripes.
“The pairings and the order are, of course, important and Paul gave me some valuable insight on that, but our job is essentially to keep the players loose, keep them relaxed,” Matthew said. “Once Friday comes it’s stressful enough. You can try and tell someone who has never been on that first tee what it’s like, but until you get there and experience it for yourself, you don’t know how you’ll react. But they’re all good players. I’m sure they’ll cope. I’ve just told them ‘enjoy it, because if you don’t enjoy this then you’re doing the wrong thing’.”
However, will Matthew be able to enjoy it with more than 80,000 arriving at the Highlands estate to make it the most attended female golf event to be held in Britain? She is adamant she will, yet there can be no doubt what it would mean to the “unvocal hero”.
“It would be right at the top,” Matthew said. “I’ve always loved the Solheim Cup and to be the winning captain at Gleneagles in Scotland would rank above my British Open win.”
Fierce competitor: Catriona Matthew has prepared meticulously for Gleneagles