Matthew lifts Brits to new heights

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Catriona Matthew might just spare British blushes.

The pride of an island rests on her slim shoulders.

A Matthew victory might just spare the sponsors and organizers from a drastic rethink. If she doesn’t win they might just consider renaming the tournament. Dropping the word “British” may come up under ‘any other business’ when promoters IMG and sponsors Ricoh sit down to reflect on this year’s tournament.

Okay, I concede I might have gone too far. This is the Women’s British Open, and so it will remain.

The serious question is how long will British women pose a bonafide challenge in their home open? Judging by this year, not for very much longer.

Count the British competitors here this week and you’d be forgiven for thinking the game was invented on some windswept coastline in Korea or the United States and not in the British Isles.

Only 19 British players began the tournament against 31 Americans and 29 Koreans. If you thought those 19 Brits were the cream of the crop, then think again. Only five of the 19 managed to make the cut.

Matthew, Sam Head, Becky Morgan, Laura Davies and Vikki Laing were the chosen few. Among those missing the cut were 2004 champion Karen Stupples, Janice Moodie, Melissa Reid, Breanne Loucks and Becky Brewerton.

Hold on. This is the Women’s British Open – played on as traditional a links course as you will find anywhere in the British Isles – and we’ve only got five players playing on the weekend?

What in the name of Joyce Wethered is going on?

Nothing. That’s what’s going on. Somehow we don’t bring young girls through the ranks the way other countries do. For example, there were more Japanese players in the field than Scots. Eight players from the land of the rising sun teed it up in the tournament. Six of them made the cut.

Maybe the game was invented on dune wasteland along the Japanese coastline.

It won’t be lost on anyone reading this that Matthew is one of the old stagers of British golf. So, too, is Davies. She’s been around forever. Those two are members of the lonely British quartet in the top 100 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Moodie and Stupples are the others.

More worrying, there are only ten British players in the world top 200.

What’s particularly disheartening from a British point of view is that our top players are all veterans. Stupples is the youngest of the bunch at 36.

The sad fact is that young British players are not coming through in the same way as young Koreans and Americans are making their way onto the LPGA Tour.

Reid, Brewerton and Loucks are all ex-Curtis Cup players with much expected of them. So far they’ve delivered in Europe.

Brewerton is enjoying her best season as a professional, with a win this year and four other top 10s. She is fifth on the Ladies European Tour money list.

Reid is currently seventh on the LET money list. She has four top-10 finishes this year. Loucks, meanwhile is 27th on the order of merit. She has a runner-up finish this year.

These stats sound impressive until you realize that the LET is a much weaker tour than the LPGA. All three look like they would struggle to cut it in the United States.

Unfortunately, if that trio wants to get to the top then they are going to have to head west. The same goes for other young British players hoping to make it to the top.

“I’ve been on tour a few years now, and I keep expecting to see a whole load of British golfers come up and come through,” Stupples said. “It seems like a lot of the players want to stay in Europe and play. I personally don’t understand that.

“I know that Melissa Reid has aspirations to come out to the States. I think that would be a very good move for her, and anybody else, really, who wants to improve and be in the top of the game. You need to play against the best week-in, week-out, and obviously that is the LPGA right now.”

Youth is on the side of Reid, Loucks and Brewerton. They have plenty of time.

Other British youngsters with the potential to make it to the LPGA include Florentyna Parker, Krystle Caithness, Sophie Walker, Vikki Laing and Michele Thomson.

These youngsters are learning their craft on the LET. As for what is coming behind them, that’s the big question.

There are organizations in the UK like the Golf Foundation and Club Golf pushing to get kids into golf, but it’s a hard sell to young girls in a nation that for so long has treated female golfers as second-class citizens.

A Matthew victory would help. It might just put the British back into the Women’s British Open.

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