Catriona Matthew may have claimed two Scottish Open successes in her native East Lothian but a slice of Gullane glory this weekend would top both those triumphs.
For starters, the venue for the Aberdeen Standard Investments-sponsored event is being played on a course Matthew first played when she was still cutting her golfing teeth.
And, on top of that, she’s up against a much stronger field than on either of the occasions she triumphed at Archerfield Links in 2011 and 2013, the first of those successes by 11 shots.
That’s because the event is now on the LPGA schedule and boasting a $1.5 million prize fund, attracting a world-class line up.
It includes ten of the top 15 in the world rankings whereas three years ago at Dundonald Links just two of the top 100 teed up in this tournament.
“The Scottish Open is great. It’s moved up a notch,” admitted Matthew. “It’s on the same course as the men’s event and being staged the week before the Ricoh Women’s British Open. It’s just a big event now.”
That British Open will prove a nostalgic occasion as Matthew returns to Royal Lytham for the first time since becoming a major winner in 2009.
She’s looking forward to that but is focused for the moment on spearheading a seven-strong Scottish challenge on the East Lothian coast in an event that starts tomorrow.
“I’ve been a member here probably since I was about 12 or 13, so obviously I know the course well,” said the 48-year-old, who is out with American ace Michelle Wie and Korea’s Sung Hyun Park at 12.10pm in the opening round. “It’s a great field this week, so we’ll obviously have to play well.
“I played yesterday, and the course is in great shape. It’s not often you see it quite as firm and fast as it is. Even for the locals, you wouldn’t have said it was much breeze yesterday, but it was certainly challenging.
“As with any links course, the key probably is keeping out of the bunkers as they’re kind of stroke and distance.”
On her debut in the event at Dundonald Links 12 months ago, Wie tied for 19th in the Ladies Scottish Open before getting in the mix the following week in the British Women’s Open at Kingsbarns, where she shared third spot.
The 28-year-old is in good fettle heading into this week’s $1.5 million event in East Lothian venue, having made 14 out of 14 cuts this year and winning the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore in March.
“I really enjoyed myself last year, and I felt like it was a great British Open prep. So I made sure that I put it in my schedule again this year, and I’m very excited for this week,” said Wie.
“It’s definitely a little bit different (to Dundonald Links) with all the elevation changes,” she added of the Gullane composite championship course. “I wasn’t quite expecting that. It looked flatter on TV. But it’s a beautiful golf course. It’s challenging. And I think it’s great.”
Rickie Fowler won the men’s Scottish Open at Gullane in 2015 – and now Wie would love to have a link success on her CV.
“It’s definitely very close to the top of my list,” she admitted. “You know, to win on a style of golf course where golf was created, I think it would just mean the world to me. Winning over here in Scotland, it’s pretty cool, and something that I’m working very hard for.”
Also in the star-studded field is Charley Hull, who has been equally consistent this season in making the cut in all 15 of her starts.
“I haven’t played links golf since the British Open last year, so it’s always nice to come back to it, and I feel my game is in good shape,” said the 22-year-old English player.
“I’ve been playing this golf course since I was younger, so I know what kind of shots I’ve always got in the bag, and I don’t really need to change it too much.
“Obviously next week is the major, the British Open, the Ricoh Women’s British Open, and to me I think this is a good warm-up for it, but I also want to do really well. It is a big event. Anything in the UK to me is a big event.”
Flying the Saltire along with Matthew are Gemma Dryburgh, Michele Thomson, Carly Booth, Kylie Henry, Kelsey MacDonald and Vikki Laing.
Dryburgh, who has been playing on the LPGA Tour this season, has been handed the honour of hitting the opening shot at 6.30am tomorrow in a group that also includes Bronte Law and Amy Olson.
Musselburgh woman Laing, who secured one of the four final spots in the event, isn’t out until 2.10pm with Chloe Leurquin and Camille Chevalier.
• Tickets for the event are FREE but can only be obtained by registering at https://ladiesscottishopen.com/
FIVE TO WATCH AT GULLANE
The experienced Australian showed her liking for links golf by getting herself in the mix in this event at Dundonald Links last year and will no doubt be relishing this test on a fast-running course.
The American, who topped the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit in 2016, now lives in Edinburgh and has paid a number of visits down to Gullane with this event specifically in mind.
She’s not been firing on all cylinders this season and already has one eye on her Solheim Cup captaincy at Gleneagles this year, but no-one in the field knows this course better than the North Berwick woman.
The world No 2 from South Korea is one of the five current women’s major champions in the field, having claimed the US Open in a play-off last month.
The former world No 1, who has become a strong supporter of this event, is back on form, having landed her first title triumph since 2016 in April in the LPGA’s Mediheal Championship.