Solheim Cup: European captain Catriona Matthew was made for this moment

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Solheim Cup: European captain Catriona Matthew was made for this moment

Solheim Cup

Solheim Cup: European captain Catriona Matthew was made for this moment

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GLENEAGLES, Scotland – It’s about 80 miles from North Berwick Golf Club to the Gleneagles Hotel, westbound around the Firth of Forth. If Catriona Matthew wasn’t leading a team during the most hectic week in golf, she could actually sleep in her own bed.

That’s how much of a home game the Solheim Cup is this week for Matthew, a 50-year-old stalwart of Scottish golf. Matthew boasts an 18-11-8 Solheim Cup record, four LPGA titles (including a major) and 104 top-10 finishes.

How much would a European victory this week mean to Matthew?

“Some of my best moments have been in the Solheim,” she said, “and I think to be a winning captain at Gleneagles in Scotland would rank just about above my British Open win.”

Strong words from a woman who won the 2009 Women’s British at Royal Lytham 11 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Sophia Lauren.

Indeed, this week’s Solheim Cup is a battle between the supermoms. Matthew and Inkster are two of the best you-can-have-it-all examples in professional golf. Though Matthew, known by friends as “Beany,” has done most of her work outside the spotlight.

Players rave about Matthew’s calm presence. Her goal is to keep the European team as loose as possible going up against an American team that’s better on paper. But don’t let Matthew’s unassuming, no-nonsense personality fool you: She’s here to win. And she’s canny too.

“She’s a fierce competitor,” said vice captain Laura Davies, “make no mistake about that. She wants to win this more than any of us.”

It was Matthew who first approached Suzann Pettersen about competing in the Solheim Cup after Pettersen took off 20 months following the birth of her first child.

The Pettersen pick could be a defining point of Matthew’s captaincy come Sunday.

“When she first asked me to be a vice captain she said ‘Well, you know you’re going to play,’ ” recalled Pettersen. “I said ‘Well, there’s something I haven’t told you.’ I was like, ‘I’m pregnant.’ She goes, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter as long as you can stand up, you’ll play.”

Pettersen said she’s had open communication with Matthew from the start. The former No. 1 knew when she started preparing for the inaugural Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, where she partnered with Matthew, that her game could be ready for this stage. Pettersen said she’s actually longer now than she was before maternity leave.

Sam Torrance never won a major, but he can understand Matthew’s comments about where a Solheim Cup victory would rank, calling team captaincy the greatest honor in golf.

“It’s just more than anything,” said Torrance. “It’s the honor of being asked to be captain. It took me a long time to get on the team. And when you’re in the team, you want to be on every other team until the end of time. The captaincy was the ultimate position, which I never thought would come to me.”

Torrance, of course, led the Europeans to victory at the Belfry in 2002.

Judy Rankin understands too.

A 26-time winner on the LPGA, the Solheim Cup came around after Rankin had moved on to a career in television. She captained victorious Solheim Cup teams in 1996 and ’98, orchestrating an away triumph in Wales.

“I’ll tell you, I said at the time I would take the job for life,” said Rankin. “That’s how enjoyable it is. And Inkster is trying to take it for life, I know she is. (Laughter)

“She called me and she said, ‘You think it’s wrong if I accept this a third time?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think it’s wrong.’ But it’s just the bonding, and it’s quite honestly a very youthful experience. I was beyond playing. And it just was the most fun I had in a long time.”

Sports has a way of gifting us fairy-tale finishes, and one could argue that either way this goes would be a heckuva story. The beloved Inkster, the first U.S. captain to get the job a third time, could cement her role as “Captain America” even further by winning a third straight with a bunch of rookies.

But even though the betting odds are stacked against them, the more experienced European team looks poised to give its Scottish captain the highlight of her career.

“I mean, obviously every single player in there respects Beany, not just for what she’s done in her career but what she’s done in Solheim Cups,” said European vice captain Mel Reid. “And, yeah, we all want to win, but especially Catriona. Catriona really wants to win.”

For Torrance, the criteria of being Ryder Cup captain comes down to finding the right man for the job at that time.

This is Matthew’s time. She’ll make the auld country proud.

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