GLENEAGLES, Scotland — It was the ultimate climax, one virtually impossible to beat. Or even match. But having watched Suzann Pettersen make the last putt on the last green in the last match to win the Solheim Cup by the narrowest of margins, European captain Catriona Matthew is coming back for more. Still relatively fresh from the Old World’s 14½-13½ victory over the United States at Gleneagles in September, the 50-year-old Scot will again lead her side at the Inverness Club in Toledo in 2021.
Which is no surprise. Matthew drew almost universal praise for her quietly efficient leadership the first time round, her selection of Pettersen—a controversial captain’s pick after playing little golf in the 18 months leading up to the biennial contest—eventually seen as something of a masterstroke.
“Winning the Solheim Cup in Scotland was a dream come true, but backing that up with a win in America would be even better,” said Matthew, back at the scene of Europe’s epic one-point win for the official announcement. “It’s always harder to win on U.S. soil, but I’m honored to be tasked with the mission. I was lucky enough to be part of the first European team to win in America, at Colorado Golf Club in 2013, and so I know what’s possible.”
Indeed, for Matthew accepting the offer to return was something of a no-brainer, although she did take some time to consider the possible implications. In the end, though, the chance to become the first European captain to win consecutive Cups was temptation enough. And, though the press conference in the Gleneagles Hotel was primarily a time to look forward, the chance to glance back a couple of months was irresistible. A veteran of nine Solheim Cups as a player (in which she scored 22 points), the 2009 Women’s British Open champion had relished her non-competing role.
“I loved watching the golf,” she says. “There was no pressure. I wasn’t hitting shots. I enjoyed it all. I was on the first tee not worried about my drive. I wasn’t worried about winning points. OK, you can’t participate actively. But I enjoyed the atmosphere more than I ever did as a player. Plus, although no captain ever gets everything right, I’m happy to say most things worked.”
That may be true, but not everything went Europe’s way over the three days. Even after taking a one-point lead at the end of Day 1, the feeling in the home camp was not wholly positive.
“I felt like we were slightly deflated on the Friday evening,” Matthew said. “Yes, we were ahead. But we looked like we were going to lead by more. The Americans holed a couple of really good putts late on. So it wasn’t really down to anything bad we did. That helped, I think. But we lost maybe two half-points that we could have had. And that was the message on Friday evening: 'We are doing well. We are playing well. Keep going. We would have taken this score before we started, so let’s be pleased with what we have.' ”
Twenty-four hours later, the Europeans headed into Sunday’s 12 singles matches with no advantage, the score level at 8-8. Yet the prevailing mood within the home side was more upbeat than it had been at the same juncture one day earlier. The all-important momentum, a drug sought by all in team golf, had, they felt, shifted in their favor.
“We were in better spirits at that stage,” Matthew said. “At one point that afternoon, it looked like we might lose the four-balls, 4-0.”
There was perhaps one sour note. The pedestrian pace of play in cold and windy weather drew widespread condemnation, criticism Matthew felt more than a little unwarranted.
“Slow play is an issue in all of golf,” she said. “Not just the Solheim Cup. And not just in ladies golf. I thought the criticism on the Saturday was a bit over the top. Unless you were there, it was hard to realize just how difficult the conditions were. People back off more when it is that windy. It was blowing 35 miles per hour, so play was always going to be slow.
“I’m not a slow player, so slow play does drive me crazy. But it’s a bigger issue that just at the Solheim Cup. It is something golf needs to address. But it was unfair to blame the Solheim Cup for it all.”
On a happier note, Matthew confirmed that her assistant captains will be the same trio originally selected for Gleneagles. So Pettersen, along with Kathryn Imrie and Laura Davies, will return, albeit in a non-putting role. The Americans, no doubt, will be pleased to hear that.