It’s 30 years now since Catriona Matthew won the Scottish Women’s Amateur Championship at Carnoustie. Three decades on, this celebrated, decorated Scot is still going strong.
With the unwavering durability of an iron rivet, Matthew is back at the indomitable Angus links for this week’s AIG Women’s Open. “I think I shot a 79 in the first qualifying round back then and was the only person to break 80,” she said with a smile as she reflected on that 1991 amateur showpiece.
Plenty of water has passed under the Barry Burn bridge since then, of course, but the challenge of Carnoustie remains as deliciously daunting as ever.
A share of fourth in the recent US Senior Women’s Open underlined Matthew’s competitive longevity but the 51-year-old is well aware that this week’s test is a different kettle of fish. “The US Senior Open course probably played about 500 yards shorter,” added the 2009 Women’s Open champion. “But on links courses, you get that run and hopefully I can run my ball up closer to some of the other players.”
There are plenty of runners and riders in this week’s championship which will boast a record prize fund of $5.8m, the biggest in women’s golf. When the championship heads to Muirfield next year, that pot will go up by another $1m. “We are setting a new benchmark for prize money in women’s golf,” said R&A chief executive, Martin Slumbers.
Big purses go hand-in-hand with big names and, on the female front, they don’t come much bigger than Nelly Korda at the moment.
The world No 1 has reeled off four wins this year, including a major triumph in the Women’s PGA and an Olympic gold, and she has arrived at Carnoustie with a weight of expectation that just about landed the American with an excess baggage charge.
“Without a doubt, she’s got the potential to be dominant,” said Matthew as she mulled over the prospect of 23-year-old Korda exerting some kind of tyrannical rule over the women’s game. “I think it is good for women’s golf to have a dominant player. You saw how Tiger (Woods) elevated the PGA Tour. If you have someone that becomes dominant, they start to be known by non-golfers, which then maybe encourages them to come and watch golf.”
Matthew has plenty to keep her mind occupied this week. As well as trying to stay focussed on Carnoustie’s abundant perils and pitfalls, the small matter of finalising her European Solheim Cup team forms a significant sub-plot to affairs on the links. Matthew, who skippered Europe to glory at Gleneagles in 2019, will name her six wild cards for September’s cup defence on Monday with her six automatic places being confirmed at the end of play here on Sunday.
For a number of players in contention and hovering on the fringes, this is the last throw of the dice in the last chance saloon. “I’ll be quite glad when it’s all over and I can concentrate on the Solheim Cup,” admitted Matthew of the various to-ings and fro-ings that are part and parcel of forming a team. “It’s always difficult making the picks. The hardest bit is telling those two or three players that they have not quite made it. I’ll be quite relieved when that’s over.”
The aforementioned Korda will lead America into the Solheim Cup tussle in Toledo but Matthew is certainly not one to get intimidated by reputations and results.
“For the Solheim Cup to have the world No 1 player is a great thing,” she said. “I think on paper the Americans are always the stronger team but over 18-holes of matchplay anyone can win. I’m sure we’ll probably go in as the underdog, especially with it being an away game but we’ll have a team with a real mixture of some experienced players and some new, younger exciting ones.”
Closer to home, Matthew enjoyed the company of West Kilbride’s Louise Duncan for a practice round the other day. The reigning Women’s Amateur champion is playing in her first major as a perk of winning that particular title and, along with the upwardly mobile Hannah Darling, forms part of an impressive wave of new talent emerging. “It’s an exciting time for Scottish women’s golf and hopefully we can get some more players out on tour and getting to the top,” Matthew said.
Matthew’s own achievements will take some topping.