Catriona Matthew is at home in Scotland now, cuddling with her two girls and taking in a most magnificent view of the Firth of Forth. It’s a scene she has known all her life, having grown up on the links of North Berwick Golf Club, one of the oldest and most glorious seaside tracks in all the land.
Matthew, the only Scot to win a women’s major, triumphed in her national open for the second time in three years last week. At 44, she is fitter than ever and playing some of the best golf of her long and undervalued career. She’s ranked ninth in the world, ahead of American stars Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr.
When it comes to raising a family on tour while maintaining a high level of play, no one does it better than Matthew. She’s the highest-ranked mom, followed by Karine Icher at No. 20. Stacy Prammanasudh, who is reportedly retiring after this season, is next at No. 124.
“I think my secret to longevity is that I have never been one to practice every second of every day,” Matthew wrote in an email.
After next week’s Evian Championship, she will enjoy a three-week break in her schedule (skipping the new LPGA event in China) before playing four weeks in Asia followed by the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the season-ending CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Fla. Matthew’s husband Graeme alternates between carrying the bag some weeks and staying back home in North Berwick with their two young girls, Katie and Sophie.
Matthew credits her improved fitness to recent work with Steve Paulding, the Scottish Golf performance manager who was part of the British cycling team.
“He has helped me enormously with good programs which are more golf specific,” Matthew wrote. “I definitely feel stronger than ever.”
In January 2010, Matthew began work with Kevin Craggs, head coach of Scottish Ladies Golf, whom she met in Spain while helping out at one of the team’s training weeks. The new support team has likely helped extend this super mom’s career – which shows no signs of slowing down.
In addition to spacing out her season with regular two-week breaks, Matthew also takes off a substantial amount of time during the offseason to be with her girls. After the last putt drops in Naples on Nov. 24, Matthew won’t practice again until mid-January.
“Being in Scotland in the winters is great because I don’t feel guilty about not playing,” Matthew wrote. “If I was in Florida I would feel guilty if I wasn’t out there practicing every day!”
As Matthew surged ahead in Scotland, players in Portland, Ore., were saying goodbye to Amanda Blumenherst, a fourth-year tour player and newlywed who decided she couldn’t take being apart from her husband (Nate Freiman of baseball’s Oakland A’s) for weeks at a time. Not everyone wants to balance a career on the road with family.
The reserved Matthew goes about the business of being a wife, mom and top-10 player in the world with remarkable poise and not a hint of fuss. For that, she has earned a tremendous amount of respect from her peers.
“I still love to play competitively and that is the secret,” Matthew wrote. “Once the desire and love for the game goes you really are toast. The standard is so high these days that you really have to love being out there. Otherwise there is no point.”
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BEYOND THE TROPHY: The second annual Suzann Pro Challenge charity event will take place Sept. 7 in Oslo, Norway, and even its namesake concedes that it will be tough to top last year’s all-world lineup.
Pettersen pulled Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam out of retirement in 2012 and brought in then-World No. 1 Yani Tseng. This year, Pettersen expanded the field to include eight players.
Tseng, of Taiwan, returns and will pair with Japan’s Ai Miyazato to represent Asia. Germany’s Sandra Gal and Spain’s Beatriz Recari will team for Europe, while Paula Creamer and Jessica Korda make up Team USA. Pettersen, last week’s winner in Portland, and Marita Engzelius will represent Norway.
“It’s benefitting Right to Play, where I’m the ambassador, which gives kids around the world a right to play and gives education,” Pettersen said. “I had a fantastic trip down (to Mozambique) after last year’s event. Having seen the projects in person and spending time with the kids, it makes you just want to do even more. It felt like the most meaningful thing that I have done in my life at the time, and it probably still is.”
Pettersen won two events in Asia last year immediately after her trip to Africa.
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NEAR PERFECT: Stacy Lewis didn’t make a bogey last week in Portland and still lost to Suzann Pettersen. Her off-week plans were simple: putting followed by more putting.
“My game is right where it needs to be. I’m excited,” said Lewis, World No. 2. “I just need to see a few more putts go in.”
Lewis is a solid pick this week in France. Her last two finishes at Evian: T-2, 2.
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EARLY EXIT: Nicole Castrale announced on Twitter that the Safeway Classic was her last event of 2013. @NicoleCastrale: “Having hip surgery this week after grinding it out all year.” A follow-up tweet Wednesday indicated that the procedure was successful.
Castrale is 45th on the money list and had two top-10 finishes this season.
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ON SECOND THOUGHT: Sophie Gustafson announced last week in Portland that she was walking away from the LPGA. But organizers at The Evian Championship lured her right back in, offering a sponsor exemption Monday. Other wild cards include Melissa Reid, Cheyenne Woods, Helen Alfredsson, Xi Yu Lin and France’s Joanna Klatten.
Gustafson is playing a Ladies European Tour event in her native Sweden this week.
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HIGH CLASS: Peggy Kirk Bell, 91, has been selected as the first female elected into the Carolinas PGA Hall of Fame, a most deserving honor. Bell, a charter member of the LPGA, bought Pine Needles Resort in Southern Pines, N.C., in 1953 with her late husband Warren “Bullet” Bell. The resort hosted U.S. Women’s Open Championships in 1996, 2001 and 2007.
Her popular “Golfari” instructional camps have encouraged countless women in the game for decades.