Catriona Matthew goes from litter picker to history-maker at Muirfield

Catriona Matthew picked up litter on her first visit to Muirfield for the men’s Open before stepping up to scoreboard carrying duties on a couple of other occasions, including a close-up view of Nick Faldo famously reeling off 18 straight pars to record the first of his two Claret Jug wins at the East Lothian venue in 1987.

Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 4:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 4:21 pm
Catriona Matthew talks to the media during a press conference prior to the AIG Women's Open at Muirfield. Picture: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images.
Catriona Matthew talks to the media during a press conference prior to the AIG Women's Open at Muirfield. Picture: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images.

The North Berwick woman then progressed to playing at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers as a guest and has now been handed the honour of hitting the opening shot there in this week’s historic AIG Women’s Open.

As was the case with Paul Lawrie in the 150th Open at St Andrews last month, it was a no-brainer, really, for the R&A, which also runs the women’s version. Matthew won this event in 2009, more recently became a Solheim Cup legend as a two-time winning captain and just happens to live five minutes away.

“Yeah, that will be great, actually. Perfect. Because there hopefully won't be too many people there,” joked the 52-year-old of being handed a 6.30am start in Thursday’s opening round along with her young compatriot, Louise Duncan, and American Sophie Schubert.

Catriona Matthew and her husband and caddie Graeme talk over a shot in the AIG Women's Open Por-Am at Muirfield. Picture: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images.

“No, obviously it's a great honour,” she added in a more serious tone. “I think it's something the R&A have started recently in the men's and ladies’ Open and it's a huge honour when you're asked to do something like that.”

Matthew won the Scottish Women’s Amateur Championship at Gullane before tasting success in the Ladies’ Scottish Open at Archerfield Links, but this week’s opportunity, which sees the top players in the women’s game battling it out for the first time on a course that has staged the 16 men’s Opens, is something to savour.

“I think it's going to be a great experience,” she said. “I think all the players will have watched the men play here over the years and I think they are delighted they are now able to come here and play their own Open here. For me personally, obviously living along the road and growing up along road, I never would have imagined ever playing a major so close to home.”

One of Scotland’s great golf ambassadors smiled when she was asked if she could remember her first visit to Muirfield. “I think probably one of the first times was I remember I was a litter picker for one of The Opens here, and then I was actually a scorer a couple of times,” she replied.

Catriona Matthew tees off on the second hole at Muirfield. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images.

“I remember it was horrific weather one of the times I was scoring and then I was actually fortunate enough to be in John Cook's group the last day when Faldo won with 18 pars, and Cook, I think, missed that little putt on 17. So that's kind of the memories I have of here.”

After staging a controversial men’s Open in 2013 due to it’s men-only membership policy at the time, a move was made to admit women members. That led to an initial ‘no’ vote in 2016 before a second attempt proved successful.

Two of the 20 women who are now members, Lindsey Garden and Barbara Biggart, played with Matthew as well as the club captain, Michael Beamish, in the pro-am on Tuesday.

“The initial vote was obviously disappointing, but I suppose that was quickly reversed and I think they are delighted now to have lady members, including a couple of friends,” observed Matthew, who, somewhat surprisingly, hasn’t been added to that list herself .

“I think everything is always moving forward. They have now got women members who are allowed to come and play here. I think you just have to look forward rather than look backwards. Golf starting in Scotland, we had a lot more traditions perhaps; we're just gradually moving with the times.

“Over the last probably ten years, we started going to all The Open venues that over the last 50-60 years you've seen the men playing in, and I think that just elevates this championship. I think it's good for us.”

At times during her press conference, Matthew had to ask for a question to be repeated due to the noise created by a westerly wind rattling the media centre. “I think this is the wind it's going to be for the week,” said Matthew as she sized up the test ahead.

“I think you have to try and do well those kind of first five holes. Certainly the front nine, I think in this wind, does play a little bit easier and the back nine you've got 12, 14, 15 are tough par 4s. I was hitting woods into I think all of them actually.

“And then 17, you know, we are playing it pretty long even though it’s downwind. And 18 is no bargain. I had a wood in there as well. I think you've got to try and make your score in those first five-nine holes and then kind of hang on on the back nine.”

Matthew is hoping this week’s event, which features four Scots in total with Gemma Dryburgh and Michele Thomson also in the 144-strong field, can “inspire some people to take up the game”. Can LIV Golf also be good for the women’s game if Greg Norman can expand that?

“I think the women's game is probably global already,” said Matthew on that subject. “The LPGA the last ten or 15 years, a third of their tour is around the world. I think that's always been Norman's beef is that it's not been a world tour, but for the ladies it is a world tour already.

“That is a obviously question for people higher up for me but obviously the money in the men's game and LIV Golf is ridiculous kind of at the moment. I think you just need to probably wait and see what happens in the next six months to a year.”

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