Catriona Matthew has said farewell to the Solheim Cup as a history maker. After becoming the first European captain to beat the United States twice, the Scot declared “It’s time for someone else to have a go”.
The scenes were emotional at the Inverness Golf Club on Monday night in the hours following the 15-13 victory over USA, who have now been defeated four times in the last six matches. The galleries had been in full “U.S.A, U.S.A cry” as the hosts threatened to pull of an almighty comeback. But by the time the champagne corks were popping the atmosphere was as flat as a Toledo IPA with stands quickly and unashamedly emptying.
There were no outbreaks of “olé, olé, olé” to hail Matthew’s heroes, but the players and management knew what they had accomplished in a quite magnificent match.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Matthew said. “At the end of the day I don’t hit any shots. It’s really up to them. They’re the ones that won it. They deserve all the credit, so thank you, team. You made me look good. It’s over to someone else now.We have so many good past players, and I think everyone deserves their chance to be captain.
“I was lucky enough to play in nine and I’ve captained two, and I’ve had a fantastic time. It’s the best week I’ve had every two years and to have been involved with it now for over 20 years… well, I’m sure I’ll be there in Spain watching.”
Little wonder that Matthew is walking away. Her heart rate will surely thank her. Two years ago at Gleneagles, she presided over a 141/2-131/2 victory that went to the final putt and although there was not the grandstand drama of that one-off, this still was pulsatingly poised for so long.
With Europe having led 9-7 overnight and then taken three of the first four singles and needing only two more points from the remaining eight to ensure the cup returned across the Atlantic, the red, white and blue suddenly swarmed all over the bottom of the leaderboard and there moments when it appeared Pat Hurst’s team could stage the miracle.
But then Matilda Castren holed a 10-footer on the last to guarantee at least the draw – and hence the retaining of the cup – and in the last match, Emily Pedersen beat Danielle Kang to make the victory good and proper.
Castren’s up and down from a plugged lie in the bunker on the 18th should long be repeated as without that the pressure on her teammates below might well have proved insurmountable. “Just a superstar,” Matthew said. We all just kind of exploded at the side of the green there.”
But in the wider context, it was the display of another first-timer which will live most vividly in the memory. Leona Maguire – ridiculously the first Irish player ever to appear in this particular dust-up – walloped Jennifer Kupcho 5&4 to put the first point on the board for European. Added to her heroics of the first two days, Maguire became the first debutant in the Solheim Cup – or the Ryder Cup – to accumulate 41/2 points.
When asked if Maguire, the only player of either team to appear in all five sessions, fitted the bill of most valuable woman, Matthew replied with trademark deadpan tones: “I think she qualifies.” Mel Reid, who partnered Maguire in three of the matches, concurred. “I do want to give a big up to my girl Leona because I could not be more proud of the way she handled herself and the way she played,” she said. “Hopefully the whole world now sees how good she is.”
And hopefully the world now understands that the Solheim is not the poor relation of the Ryder Cup, set up in its image and destined to be in its shadow. At the very least, it is its equal.
“There were 130,000 fans out here in Toledo and we’ve got to say a huge thank you to all of them,” Matthew said. “But imagine if the Europeans had been able to travel; we might have been up at 200,000. It’s events like these that grow women’s golf. And we’ve put on another spectacular performance this time.”