CLASSY Catriona Matthew shrugged off her 11th-hour call up to become the third most successful European in Solheim Cup history.
The North Berwick woman joined forces with Karine Icher of France to record a superb foursomes win in the opening session of the 15th biennial event in Des Moines, Iowa.
The pair found themselves two down early on against Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller before squaring the anchor match with birdies at the 13th and 14th.
The Europeans then edged in front for the first time at the 16th before Matthew, on her ninth appearance in the event, conjured a brilliant bunker recovery at the next for a vital half.
Piller was unable to convert a six-footer at the last to tie things, allowing Matthew to chalk up her 20th point in the biggest tournament in women’s golf.
Two former world No.1s – Laura Davies, with 25, and Annika Sorenstam, on 24 – are the only European players to have enjoyed more success against the Americans.
“I was super-nervous at the start,” admitted Matthew afterwards. “It doesn’t matter how many of these you play in, you are always going to be nervous.
“But I managed to get over them and I always enjoy this event. The whole crowd, the atmosphere, playing in the team, it gets the juices flowing.
“If you don’t get going for this then there’s no point playing golf. This is my favourite event.”
The hard-earned success by Matthew and Icher gave Europe a 2.5-1.5 lead after the morning session before the Americans looked set to hit back with a vengeance in the afternoon fourballs.
Matthew, who was left out of that session as European skipper Sorenstam decided to give all 12 of her players a taste of first-day action, only found out on Wednesday that she would be playing here.
The 47-year-old arrived ready to be one of Sorenstam’s vice-captains but swapped roles with Suzann Pettersen after the Norwegian hurt her back last weekend.
Asked if she could have envisaged earning such an important early point a week beforehand, Matthew admitted with a smile: “Absolutely not.
“I was all set to be cheering the team on from the sidelines. It was tough what happened to Suzann. No-one likes to see that, but I stepped in and had a good partner today.”
The pair won playing fourballs in the 2015 event in Germany and looked very comfortable in each other’s company again in the more difficult alternate shot format.
“We were under-par, which is always good in foursomes,” said Matthew. “They played well on the front nine, where we didn’t do much wrong, and we just told ourselves to keep going and stick in.
“We had good birdies at 13, where I hit a 5-wood from about 205 yards and Karine holed the putt for a big momentum swing, and 14 to get us back into it.”
Matthew was watched by her mum, Joan, and husband Graeme, who made a late dash across the Atlantic after the dramatic turn of events that led the Scottish No.1 to be on the front line rather than driving a buggy.
“It was good playing with Karine again,” she added. “The two oldies together, though she might not like that.”
Had Sorenstam sent her most experienced campaigner out with any special message on the day she took over from Davies as the oldest European to tee it up in this event?
“No,” replied Matthew. “She spoke to us on the back nine and told us just to keep going.
“We just all wanted to go out and win and it’s a good start. If you look at the world rankings, Stacy and Gerina are well ahead of us.
“They are great players and this is a great win for us.”