Sometimes the stars and the planets align and everything in a chaotic universe falls neatly into place (astronomers, physicists, geographers and assorted knowledgeable beings please hold your whist, this is not a technical, scientific piece). And so it has proved for the LET, a body fighting for survival and in need of the oxygen of good publicity.
Catriona Matthew, a major championship winner and one of Scotland’s best and most consistent professionals, has agreed to captain Europe in the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in 2019. She intends to keep playing tournament golf but has no plans to be a playing captain – despite morphing, by necessity, into a playing vice-captain in Iowa this year when Suzann Pettersen was injured.
It couldn’t be better or neater: Matthew, nee Lambert, is a fine, upstanding citizen with an impeccable golfing pedigree who grew up in North Berwick and when not living out of her suitcase, still stays, as the Scots say, in North Berwick. She won her first tournament in Europe at Gleneagles and has played in nine Solheim Cups. She won the Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham a ridiculously short time – 11 weeks – after the birth of her second daughter and has been married to Graeme since 1994 despite him caddying for her for most of her professional career. That’s quite a trick: not many caddy/player teams last more than a few years and throwing the husband/wife dynamic (dynamite) into the mix usually leads to explosions of a partnership-ending nature.
Catriona admitted that organisation is not her strong point – listening to her press conference on a slightly dodgy phone line and distracted by a dog walker outside my window, I thought she’d said communication but, no, it turned out to be organisation. Vicky Cuming, her manager and Graeme take care of most of the details apparently, leaving Catriona to pitch up at whatever airport or hotel it is, head for the course and play her golf. She’s a mother too, off course, so she’s learned to be a decent juggler and it’ll be interesting to see what sort of captain she is. Annika Sorenstam, Matthew’s immediate predecessor, assessed her own strengths and weaknesses and appointed people to counter the latter. People who’d known Annika as world No 1, at the height of her intensity and single-mindedness, were surprised by how relaxed and laid-back she was as captain, not ditching her forensic attention to detail but accepting the need to accommodate the different characters that make up a team and adjusting her approach accordingly. If she wasn’t quite sure what exactly made a player tick, she’d take advice from someone who did.
The best captains tend to be those who are in charge without feeling the need to prove it. Good captains don’t always win – it takes a team playing well to do that – and bad captains don’t always lose (so can they be a bad captain?!) but a captain is a figurehead, a mouthpiece, the person who sets the tone and as such they are important. The LET is in crisis – are there enough tournaments to sustain a tour, to supply players to a Solheim Cup team? – so by default if nothing else Europe’s captain has a rah-rah job to do. She’s not there to defend the indefensible but she’s got to communicate her passion for the game, to make a strong case for her playing peers, to show that the women are worth backing, supporting, cheering, worth caring about. She’s got to let us know that she cares. Because if she doesn’t, why should we?
Matthew is sharp and intelligent but like Sorenstam she is by nature a quiet soul, not inclined to share herself with the outside world. She likes to let her clubs do the talking but as a captain she has to do more than that. She’s got to be a promoter and a cheerleader for the next two years and that’s not her natural habitat. Her country, the home of golf, boosted skilfully by the professionals at Visit Scotland, will cope all right but they also need their front woman to bare her soul enough to let the world in and want to spend time with her and care about her players. Only she can do that. She’s accepted the captaincy but is she up for the challenge?
At the moment the Americans hold the Solheim, Ryder and Walker Cups. GB and I claimed the Curtis Cup at Dun Laoghaire last year and last week, magnificently, GB and I’s club professionals retained the PGA Cup at Foxhills in Surrey by 16 points to 10. The Americans, one point adrift going into the singles, started well but were swept away by Albert MacKenzie’s team. MacKenzie, a Scot from Aberdeen (who owes Mo a fiver from another life I believe), is the pro at the wonderful Saunton in Devon and if Catriona’s needng advice, it’s well worth the detour.
Huge congrats to Albert and his team and a special shout out to Cameron Clark, one of the vice-captains, who’s pro at Moor Hall in Sutton Coldfield, where my brother-in-law David Bramble is leading the cheering…