Catriona Matthew: Olympic Experience & Tackling North Berwick
When you tot up the longevity of Catriona Matthew’s career it is quite staggering. Charley Hull was one when Matthew turned pro and this year the Scot played in her 86th Major at Evian. Every big week you try to cobble together some novel home-based tips for this tournament or that tournament and you find yourself, year after year, writing the same name down. And Matthew rarely lets you down.
This year at the Women’s British Open at Woburn she was the only European to feature in the top 10, one of 18 top 10s in the Majors which of course include that memorable victory at Lytham in 2009. The win, the first by a Scottish woman in a Major, came just 11 weeks after she had given birth to her second daughter, Sophie, and the week after she and her husband Graeme had escaped a hotel fire at the Evian.Graeme burned his feet and was unable to caddy for the first two rounds while another player, Amy Yang, had to leap from her balcony because she couldn’t get out the door.
After winning the Women’s British Open at 39, the only British Major success in the past 12 years, the Scot said: “Thirty-nine sounds old, but I don’t feel old. The difficult bit will be when Katie starts school. But this has certainly spurred me on to play for another few years.”
Seven years later and Matthew has now become an Olympian. As an 11-year-old she remembers watching Daley Thompson and Allan Wells at the Moscow Games but never anticipated becoming an Olympian herself. By her side in Rio was Graeme, who caddied for his wife for 16 years before now staying at home to oversee things as the girls go to school.Matthew would be the last golfer on earth to sing her own praises but you can only imagine the sacrifices that both husband and wife have taken to make things work and allow the world No 60 to continue taking on the world’s best, many of them less than half her age.
We meet the Scot at her home course, the magnificent North Berwick, where she has recently renovated the family home which overlooks the famous 18th.This is where she honed her golfing skills as a tomboyish sister to two brothers before moving up a level or two. Within a few years she had become the Scottish Girls champion, in time there would be a British Amateur win and three Curtis Cup appearances as well as a degree in accountancy from Stirling University.
The likelihood is that she will be our Solheim captain at Gleneagles in 2019.
It’s been some story…
How was the whole Rio experience?
I really enjoyed it, it was great staying in the Olympic Village and seeing how it all works and everyone going about their stuff. Once you were at the course it was like any other tournament but the Village was great fun.
You would get in the lift and there would be the cyclists and gymnasts so you really felt part of it all. You don’t have a tonne to do with the other athletes and you are all individual teams but we felt welcome as golfers and as a new sport.It is cool to be an Olympian and I have two daughters who are very keen on golf now that it has been in the Olympics. Their friends have heard of it and they wouldn’t watch an LPGA event.
The men’s event was a really exciting finish and from what I’ve read golf went down well and all the negative press was quickly forgotten. So many people watched golf those weeks and it definitely brought in a wider audience.
What were the digs like?
I think the British lucked out with the accommodation. The British Olympic Association went in early and seen it and brought in extra furniture and TVs, from what I heard our block was by far the best.
I never hang my stuff up anyway so I don’t need much, just a clean bed. The dining might not have been the best but there were a lot of people to cater for! The food hall was something like 300 yards long and massive and open 24 hours a day.How much of the other events did you get to go to?
On the Sunday that Justin Rose won we saw him warm up and then watched him around the turn. Then we went to the tennis where Andy Murray also won gold against Del Potro. We also got to the athletics when Mo Farah won and Jess Ennis was second so it was pretty special.
As competitors we got to go to the warm- up track which was pretty amazing. Unfortunately the cycling was tough to get tickets for and didn’t quite fit in with our schedule.
How good was the course and how good was your golf (Matthew was 29th)?
It is obviously such a new course but it reminded me of Royal Melbourne with the bunkering and run-offs, it didn’t play quite as rm but it had that similar look.I have been playing well all year, I was only three off the lead after the second round (66) but was disappointed with my third round. The wind direction was tougher and it was windier so it was a tough day.
Every golfer feels like they should hole more putts and that makes all the difference and you are always waiting for those weeks when the putts drop.
Did it feel like a Major?
It was similar to a Major away from the course but on the course it was more like another event. By the last day I was out of it so that felt like I wasn’t playing for anything so maybe a cut would work.
The format, regulation 72-hole strokeplay, got loads of criticism ahead of the Games. What did you make of it?Next time they could maybe try and do something different and combine the men and the women and have more of a team element. In the British team there was Charley and I but we were playing as individuals. It is only every four years so something different would be good.
To get a medal you have to finish in the top three so that only really affects a few players on the final day.
What gets you going more, playing for Scotland or GB?
For me they are both the same. I was just as proud playing for Team GB in the Olympics as I would be Scotland in the World Cup or, for that matter, Europe in Solheim Cup.How important is golf to North Berwick?
Golf plays a huge part in the town, it is like a smaller version of St Andrews with the course in the middle of the town. There are a lot of visitors and mostly Americans from April to the end of October.
And you have a new house to watch everyone tackle the last hole?
Yes, it was my grandparents’ house originally and then my mum and dad bought it. Mum and dad moved there when I was at university so I hadn’t lived there and we’ve moved there the last few years but are only just back in after doing a big renovation.I love living there, it has great views, you can walk into town in a few minutes and can walk anywhere and I get plenty of exercise walking up the hill to school.
How long have you been associated with the club?
I joined when I was 12 so that was the early 80s, mum and dad were members and I had two older brothers.
I’m obviously biased but I would have it in my top five courses. I think many visitors might say the same (North Berwick ranked 49th in the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World).
It is eight holes out, one across and nine back in so it is a pretty typical links and plays different all the time with the weather. You have holes like the 13th, a short par 4, and you would never design holes like that these days, with a dry stone wall in front of the green.The 16th has a burn 200 yards off the tee and then there is a very undulating green in two sections. If you miss the green you can play any shot; a putt, chip or op shot.
It is difficult to compare to an inland or desert course but, for a links, it is one of the best and is always in great condition.
How nice is it to come back to somewhere like North Berwick when you’ve been travelling and playing golf around the world?
I go to a lot of big cities so it is nice to be in such a relaxed and laid-back town, it has obviously changed and got bigger but the feel of the place is the same.We don’t have any plans to move, the kids are at school and we are very settled. You don’t know everyone in the town but you certainly recognise a lot of people.
Catriona plays on the LPGA. Follow her on twitter: @Beany25