SHE’LL be the obvious candidate for captain if Scotland’s bid to stage the event for a third time – at Gleneagles in 2019 – is successful, but another chapter in Catriona Matthew’s remarkable playing career in the Solheim Cup is about to be penned.
Yesterday, on her 46th birthday, the North Berwick woman was named along with Swede Caroline Hedwall, German Caroline Masson and Frenchwoman Karine Icher as European captain Carin Koch’s wild-card selections for next month’s biennial clash against the United States at St Leon-Rot club, near Heidelberg in Germany.
It will be Matthew’s seventh appearance in a row and eighth in total, matching Colin Montgomerie’s feat in the Ryder Cup. She’ll join some legends of the women’s game, including former world No 1 Annika Sorenstam, on that mark, which only Laura Davies, with a remarkable 12 appearances, has bettered in the European ranks.
“When I played my first one (at Muirfield Village in 1998 in a side that contained both Davies and Sorenstam), I never imagined I’d end up playing in eight of them and I think they become even more special as time goes on,” Matthew told The Scotsman. “You never know when it comes down to a pick. I was fairly confident but it was nice to get that call from Carin. It was quite a relief when she said I was in the team because I’ve been lucky to play in a few Solheim Cups and it has always been a highlight.”
Normally a model of consistency, Matthew missed three cuts in the final few weeks of the qualifying campaign to drop out of one of the eight automatic positions. That left her facing a nervous wait, but it was clearly a case of Koch adopting a form- is-temporary, class-is-permanent view as she included the Scot in the final pieces of her jigsaw.
“When I got the call from Carin, I couldn’t have been happier,” added Matthew, who secured the winning point at Barseback in Sweden in 2003 and also gained the half that won the trophy outright in Colorado two years ago, when a record 17-10 triumph gave Europe a first win on US soil. “All she said really was that she wanted me in the team and was looking forward to me being involved in Germany.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present, though I try to forget them these days! I’m home for two weeks now so can get some good practice in before the Evian (the final major of the season in France) and then move on to St Leon Rot for the Solheim Cup. I’ve got a pretty good record in it. When you know what to expect in an event like this it definitely makes you feel more comfortable.”
In 29 matches, Matthew has a 55.2 per cent strike rate. She has been particularly impressive in the singles over the years, bouncing back from a last-day defeat on her debut to stand unbeaten since then. “Catriona brings a lot of experience to the team,” said Koch, who revealed she’s been receiving advice from Paul McGinley, so impressive as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain last year, in the countdown to the contest on 18-20 September. “She is great to have around as she is very calm and can play with anybody.”
Of the 24 players set to lock horns, only Alison Lee, a 20-year-old in the American ranks, is a Solheim Cup rookie. “That is quite amazing, really,” admitted Matthew. “It may actually be a first that we’ve not got a rookie on our team.” Koch’s final four selections were all on the winning team two years ago. Hedwall created history then by becoming the first player on either team to win five points out of five. She’s been off colour lately, but her fellow Swede is unconcerned. “Caroline has an extra switch when it comes to match-play,” insisted Koch. “I can see it in her eyes and she is pretty unbeaten, really, in that format.”
While the Americans lead 8-5 overall, the last two encounters have both been won by Europe. “As a result of that, they will definitely be coming over wanting to win this one and, as we discovered the last time, there’s also nothing sweeter than winning on away soil,” said Matthew. “It will be a tough match, but we’ve got a good team and I’m quietly confident we can come out on top again.”