Catriona Matthew, this year’s winning European Solheim Cup captain, has agreed to come back for more at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, in 2021. She knows that she will have a tougher time of it with the Americans having the home advantage but, for the moment, there is something equally pressing on her mind. Namely, the dynamics of the match itself.
With Mike Whan, the LPGA Tour commissioner, coming over to the Ladies European Tour’s forthcoming tournament in Spain (from 28 November to 1 December) to talk to the Europeans about a possible merger with the LPGA, Matthews is adamant that the players should think carefully before they agree to anything. Great admirer though she is of Whan and what he has done for the LPGA Tour, she worries that any move along the suggested lines could have an adverse affect on “the intensity and rivalry” of the Solheim Cup.
Matthew, who has played in nine of the matches in addition to captaining this year’s team at Gleneagles, could scarcely be better placed to point to how the contest of today is “bigger and better" than it has ever been.
“We need to be very careful if we go down that (LPGA merger) route,” she said. “In fact, we need to consider all the available options very carefully.”
She noted how Pádraig Harrington, who will be captaining the European Ryder Cup side of 2020, had added to the debate. Speaking after the third round of the Turkish Airlines Open two Saturdays ago, this double Open champion began by saying that he does not believe in any potential merger of the men’s European Tour with the PGA Tour. Going on from there, he made plain that he would sooner see the European Tour joining forces with the LET and admitted to being surprised that it hadn’t happened already, what with the savings which would ensue: “We have two sets of tournament organisers, two sets of rules officials, two sets of accountants, and people in both offices … ”
“Catriona’s truly a class act; she’s got what it takes to inspire all the players and team members around her.”
From there, Matthew progressed to the third option: one of the LET staying as the independent entity that it is at the moment. “There would seem to be more tournaments in the offing for 2020 and, though there is no question that the LET could do with a bit of help, is it possible that they could carry on as the autonomous concern that they are at the moment? I have to say that I thought that Alex Armas, who is filling the role of CEO until they appoint their next one, did a good job when she had a previous stint in the role.”
Looking back to that magnificent September day at Gleneagles when Suzann Pettersen holed her 6-footer to clinch victory for Europe, Matthews confessed that she had had her fingers crossed about including the player in her 12-strong side: "So I did have them crossed, only it was more for Suzann's sake rather than mine. From her point of view, it was probably very important that she won her first match on the Friday afternoon (Pettersen and Anne van Dam defeated Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas, 4 and 2).
“I knew that the media would question my decision when she had only played a couple of tournaments over the year and I think I would have felt like they did had I been one of the writers. It’s just that there’s no-one like Suzann when it comes to match play.
“My mind was made up when I played alongside her in the Dow (Great Lakes Bay Invitational) earlier in the year. Her game was a little rusty but nothing had changed and, the more I talked to her about playing, the more she warmed to the task.
Pettersen, who announced her retirement at the end of the Solheim Cup, will be among the vice captains of ’21. In the meantime, she gave her wholehearted approval of Matthew’s reappointment: “Catriona’s truly a class act; she’s got what it takes to inspire all the players and team members around her.”
Matthew herself said that she was honoured to have been handed the opportunity to become Europe’s first “multiple Solheim Cup-winning captain. ... This year’s win was a dream come true but if I can back it up with a win in America it would be even better.”
Bearing in mind the success of Part 1 of the operation, it came as a surprise when she said there was something she would be doing differently at the Inverness Club. It related to the Saturday matches.
“Though you choose the pairings for the Saturday morning the night before, you have to decide on your afternoon pairings at a time when you would sooner wait a bit,” she said. “I spoke to the girls who needed to be ready to go out after lunch but, in one case, I had to make a change. It wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“Next time, I won’t be saying anyone is playing that session for certain. I’ll be more cagey.”