SOUTHPORT, England -- You can pretty much count on one hand the number of women who have won LPGA major championships after becoming a mother -- Nancy Lopez and Juli Inkster among them. But no one accomplished it as soon after childbirth as Catriona Matthew, who won last year's Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes just 11 weeks after Sophie, her second daughter, came into the world.
Matthew and her caddie/husband, Graeme, come into Royal Birkdale for this year Women's British as defending champion but without the children. "This week they are actually at home in Scotland with my mum and dad," Matthew said Wednesday after her practice round in blustery and at times wet conditions. "Katie (who is 3 1/2) is getting swimming lessons so you know how that goes. More exciting than watching me play golf."
Perhaps it was her maternal instincts coming out, but Matthew is in the camp of those who feel too much is being made of the absence of Alexis Thompson at the Women's British. The 15-year-old was exempt into the final qualifier because she was on the U.S. Curtis Cup team but surrendered that exemption when she opted to turn pro and secure lucrative endorsement deals as well as a second-place check last week at the Evian Masters. Tournament organizers here have taken some heat for not making special accommodations for Thompson.
"She's only 15," said Matthew. "She's going to have a lot of other chances to come and play in it." Matthew was also outspoken on the broader issue of a child of that age turning professional. "I think probably she'd be better off at school. She's certainly proved she's a good enough player, there's no doubting that. But 15 is just maybe a little too young to come out on tour. I mean, it's still really only a child."
When Thompson turns 16 on Feb. 10, she can petition the LPGA for an exemption to the minimum age rule of 18. But the word on the street is that she is more likely to follow the Michelle Wie route and not apply for tour membership, which will give her more freedom to play abroad and will exempt her from having to play a minimum number of LPGA events.
And if Thompson does apply, indications are that commissioner Mike Whan may not easily grant the exemption to the home-schooled Thompson. Whan does not want to do anything that would be interpreted as encouraging children to quit school, according to sources familiar with the situation.
"I think they are wise to be a bit careful, really," Matthew said about the LPGA's reluctance to openly encourage Thompson to join the tour. Certainly, the way the Wie situation has turned out -- generating only modest success -- raises questions about the special treatment she received, including a special exemption into the 2004 U.S. Women's Open.
"Personally, I think she should probably just wait a couple of years at least," Matthew said. "I think she should just be enjoying herself a bit more, trying to be a child. Here's no great rush to grow up."
As for herself, Matthew says she is coming into Birkdale pretty much on form. "I played well out there this morning," she said. "Had a good round in the last round of the Evian. It's not usually my favorite course for playing well, so that's always encouraging. So hopefully, I can bring that into this week." She listed Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer and Sophie Gustafson among the "10 or 12 people who have a really good chance" this week. She should also include Cartriona Matthew, who could join Lopez and Inkster as multiple major winners after giving birth.
-- Ron Sirak