RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Catriona Matthew’s Solheim Cup captaincy could not be more different from 2019 to 2021.
Six months after Matthew led her team to victory in her native Scotland at Gleneagles, winning back the cup for Europe the first time since 2013, the world was overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
This week, after months of watching her prospective team from afar, Matthew made the trip from Europe to California to get some face time with her players.
“I haven't been able to come out as much as I would like to see the players,” Matthew told GolfChannel.com. “I’ve been watching from home and watching the results, but I felt like I hadn’t seen the players or spoken to a lot of them in a long time, so I had to show my face.”
Matthew’s evaluation process will ramp up over the next two to three months with the help of her vice captains – Laura Davies, Kathryn Imrie and Suzann Pettersen. But the tough decisions will be made easier with trips like this one to the ANA Inspiration. Imrie is on-site this week with Matthew. The captain also plans to attend the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in June.
That visit will come on the heels of her first trip to Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio, which will host the Solheim Cup in September. The question of whether or how many fans will be allowed on-site remains unknown. While Matthew can’t imagine a Solheim Cup without fans, she doesn’t expect many Europeans to be able to make the trip. But, she is hopeful even a small American contingent would make the event possible.
“You want people there. It’s that kind of event,” Matthew said. “Even with normal events it's not the same, but you can get away with more without fans. An event like Solheim, you really need some fans.”
In 2019, Matthew announced that she would be playing a reduced schedule and primarily in Europe. She never imagined when made that announcement that she would have just two starts in 2020. Last year, the Ladies European Tour’s schedule was reduced to 12 events, which dramatically reduced the playing opportunities for her prospective players to not only earn qualifying points but also competitive reps.
“For the ones that play over here, they got in a pretty good season,” Matthew said about her prospective players who also compete on the LPGA Tour. “For the Europeans and LET, it’s been a lot tougher. With the way the virus is going in Europe at the moment, everything is just up in the air. Hopefully, it's going to go ahead as planned.”
In order to compensate for the reduced playing opportunities in Europe, the team changed its qualifying criteria for 2021. The number of players who qualify, via the LET Solheim Cup point standings, was reduced from three to two. The number of players qualifying via the Rolex Rankings was reduced from five to four. Those two additional spots will instead be filled via captain’s picks, increasing Matthew’s selections from four to six.
Is having that many captain’s picks a blessing or a curse?
“Maybe I’ll answer that one when I’m doing it,” Matthew said laughing. “It may be too early to answer that one.”
It’s just one more change that Matthew will have to navigate en route to returning to the Solheim Cup.