Catriona Matthew, the reigning Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, was taken out on to the links at Royal Birkdale for photo shoots during last week’s media day for the 2010 championship. Though she was armed with the trophy rather than a couple of clubs, the mere feel of the different winds whipped up her first rush of interest in what lay ahead. “I hadn’t thought about my defence too much before I came here today but the process has certainly started now,” she said.
In recalling favourite memories from Lytham last year, Matthew told how she had been up and about at three in the morning following her triumph. Not doing a John Daly but enjoying a quiet cup of tea with her mother as the two of them administered a night feed to Sophie, the baby to whom Catriona had given birth only 11 weeks before.
Out on the links, the now 40-year-old Scot had enjoyed nothing so much as walking down the last with a three-shot lead. “After I hit my drive,” she said, “I knew I was going to be all right. It was how you dream of winning.”
Usually, with Matthew, no one can tell from her demeanour whether she was 10 ahead or on her way to a trouble-strewn double-bogey. On that day it was different. She looked positively radiant as she and Graeme, her caddie-cum-husband-cum accountant, stepped on to the green with America’s Christina Kim leading the applause.
Matthew’s sense of calm extends to everyday life. Unlike so many of today’s teenagers who want to win ‘now,’ she has always looked at the bigger picture.
When she left school in North Berwick, she headed straight for Stirling University to embark on what was a five-year course in finance. (Sports’ scholarship holders at Stirling stay a year longer than regular students in order that they can keep up to scratch with their work.) In truth, Catriona’s career at that stage reads much the same as Padraig Harrington’s in that Harrington also studied finance while he, like her, stayed in the amateur game for three Walker Cups to her three Curtis Cups.
Matthew qualified for the LPGA Tour in 1994, since then she has won six times around the golfing globe at the same time as she has brought two children – Katie and the aforementioned Sophie – into the world.
That she has had no injuries in her 16-year career of playing for pay – “just a few of your usual niggles” – is something she puts down to what has been a relatively well-balanced lifestyle. On the subject of those younger players who have gone in for a more concentrated brand of golf and who would seem to be suffering an inordinate number of injury problems, she merely asks a rhetorical, “Who knows whether it is because they have played too much, too soon?”
When asked about Lorena Ochoa’s retirement, Matthew could see that it was a blow to the tour to lose Annika Sorenstam and Ochoa within so short a space of time. Yet, looking at things from the Mexican’s point of view, she felt it had been a commendably bold move. “There’s no point on being out there if you’re not happy,” she ventured.
Only the timing of Ochoa’s decision had surprised Matthew and her sister professionals in that they had presumed she would stay put for the 10 years it takes to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Matthew does not waste energy on controversy. Yet, when asked why the 10-year rule for the Hall of Fame should apply to those who had met the golfing criteria within that space of time, she was not at all sure that it should. “It’s something the LPGA might want to look at,” she said.
Matthew herself is not thinking of retirement any time soon but there is a plan for the future which is even now beginning to take shape. Formerly coached by David Whelan in Florida, she switched three months ago to Scotland’s Kevin Craggs “to have things more home-based.” On a not too different tack, she and Graeme have put Katie’s name down for a North Berwick nursery rather than one in the States. The first day will mark the start of the Scottish education they want for their children – and, says Matthew, lightly, “the beginnings of a more normal life” for all of them.
At the moment, however, she is simply itching to get started on a run of LPGA events which will start in New Jersey this week. From there, she will proceed to Brazil where she will be defending her title in the HSBC LPGA Brazil Cup, a title she won while pregnant with Sophie.
The only downside at a stage in a life in which everything else is going so well is that she does not have a main sponsor.
As she says herself, things would almost certainly have been different had she been a man.
Sad to say, all too many of golf’s lingering breed of misogynists are involved in the kind of decisions made by bodies such as Visit Scotland. Would you believe that the country’s official tourist board has preferred to use such as Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance to front recent operations ahead of Scotland’s only current major winner?