As relationships with golf tournaments go, few have a more storied and intimate connection with a particular event than Catriona Matthew has with the AIG Women’s Open.
A champion in 2009 at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Matthew had given birth just 11 weeks earlier, reigning victorious in the most unlikely and heroic of circumstances.
Yet ‘Beany’, as Matthew is affectionately known, has ties with the Championship that go beyond her fairytale victory. Read on to discover how Matthew truly is a hero of the AIG Women’s Open.
Debut and early years
As a 23-year-old in 1993, Matthew made her debut in the Championship as an amateur, before the Women’s Open was an LPGA-sanctioned event, and quickly found herself walking amongst giants of the game.
“I remember going down,” Matthew said, “and my Mum actually trolley-pulled for me that week. It was very different those days, I remember she was very nervous.”
“I think I might have played with Trish Johnson one day. You know, you’re seeing Laura Davies, Alison Nicholas, Helen Alfredsson, all these people who were obviously that little bit older than you and had all turned pro and done really well.
"So it’s a nerve-racking experience, and you’re suddenly thrown out your comfort zone as such, from playing in amateur things to suddenly going and playing with people you’ve probably only really read about.”
Matthew performed admirably as an amateur, before returning to the event two years later in 1995. The Scot would finish T12, T35 and T5 the next three years, quickly finding her feet in the prestigious Championship.
'Beany’ picked up her first wins as a professional too in that period. In 1996, Matthew beat Karrie Webb to win the Women’s Australian Open, and the week before the Women’s Open in 1998, she won the Wales Ladies Championship of Europe on the European Tour, beating her heroes Davies and Alfredsson by five shots in the process.
Matthew missed the cut at the Women's Open in 1998 , before a T68 and a missed cut followed in the next two years. The Women’s Open gained major status in 2001, however, and that was the year Matthew really began to make her mark in the Championship.
“Whether at the time you really realise you're learning a whole lot from not winning (I'm not sure), but I think you do.” Catriona matthew
Holes in one and close calls
As Matthew progressed in her career, she won her first event on the LPGA Tour in early 2001, beating Annika Sorenstam in Hawaii. In her first three wins on three different Tours, Matthew had beaten four Women's Open champions by a total of 11 strokes.
Clearly now showing the calibre of a potential major champion year-in, year-out, Matthew picked up her fourth top-10 in a major at The U.S Women's Open in 2001 with a T4 finish, and was one of the home favourites for the first ever major on British soil.
She started superbly at the Women's Open, and marked the occasion with a hole-in-one on the 15th hole in round two to take the outright lead. Coming into Sunday, Matthew still held top spot, but she then limped to a closing 73 while others around her charged ahead. After eventually finishing five shots behind champion Se-Ri Pak. Matthew says she learned a lot from the experience.
"I remember we had rain delays and different things there," she said, "so it was a testing kind of last couple of days. So I think you do learn, whether at the time you really realise you’re learning a whole lot from not winning (I'm not sure), but I think you do. When you get in that position again I think you kind of learn from what went wrong the time before."
Three years later, Matthew would record her second hole-in-one at the event, again at Sunningdale on the eighth hole. It would be another three years until she was in contention again, this time finishing T7 in 2007 at St Andrews. Matthew's best, however, was still yet to come.
Heading into the Women's Open in 2009 at Royal Lytham and St Annes, Matthew was less than three months on from giving birth to her second child. Her preparation was far less than ideal.
"If we’re being brutally honest, it was zero preparation really, wasn’t it," Matthew said. "I think before the event I’d maybe been hitting for not long, I’d gone to the Evian the week before to get a little warm-up, then obviously that was slightly disrupted with a hotel fire and different things."
That hotel fire in the middle of the night at the Evian Championship, her first event since giving birth, caused a scare for Matthew and her husband and caddie Graeme. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt, but the incident did nothing to raise Matthew's expectations for the following week at the Women's Open.
"I think, to be honest, going that week to Lytham I was probably more relaxed than I probably had been in ones previously where I’d obviously been playing well, and you always want to do well and perform in your home Open."
"I probably put too much pressure on myself, so that one I actually came in with so little preparation I wasn’t expecting too much. I probably came in with less pressure on myself, which obviously helped. You just wish you could have played every week with less expectation on yourself."
With genuinely small expectations, Matthew was able to play a brand of golf that was free-wheeling and spectacular. After a fairly tricky start, Matthew hit top gear on the back nine in round two, carding her third Women's Open hole-in-one on the 12th hole en route to an incredible seven-under-par 30 on the back nine.
Matthew's brilliance, defying the odds with yet another hole-in-one, put her in with a great shout of victory once more. In the final round, Matthew still held the lead after the front nine, despite not showing her best form, but the nerves were starting to get to her.
"It probably wasn’t really until that last day that I actually realised I had a good chance to win the event," she said. "I mean obviously I had a bit of a shaky front nine, and I remember playing the 10th hole, which to be fair I hadn’t played well all week.
"I had to take a penalty drop by the green, and then I actually made a really good up and down for bogey, and I remember my husband who was caddying for me saying: ‘It’s not often that a bogey is a great bogey but that was a great bogey.’
"It kept me tied for the lead, and we just both felt to try and push on from there, I had nothing to lose. At the end of the day no one was really expecting me to win, so I think that kind of really settled me."
"I’d played the 11th hole well all week, and in fact I played those last eight holes well all week, so I went in with confidence to them, and we just kind of said to ourselves: 'We’re not going to lose this, we’re not going to lose that lead.'"
Matthew went on to have another great back nine and win by three shots, enjoying her final walk up to the 18th green with a huge ovation from the crowd. Yet the Scot knows her up and down on the 10th hole, which kept her in a tie for the lead at the time, was the momentum boost she needed.
"I think that was a huge thing," Matthew said, "because I remember there was a leaderboard either at the 10th green or the 11th tee, so I could see when I holed that putt I knew it was keeping me tied for the lead.
"There’s always a psychological thing to be tied for the lead rather than to lose your lead altogether, so holing that, I think it was about a five-footer that I holed, that was kind of the impetus I needed to push on."
Eleven years on from her famous victory, Matthew has finished in the top-10 three times since, most recently in 2016. Her off-course role as a mentor has become more prominent, and Matthew watched on as Georgia Hall followed in her footsteps in 2018, winning her maiden AIG Women's Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Just one year later, Matthew would captain Europe to a nail-biting Solheim Cup victory, a victory in which Hall went unbeaten, securing four of Europe's 14.5 points under Matthew's stewardship.
The 50-year-old Matthew will return as Europe's captain next year, and has her thoughts on which members of her 2019 team and potential 2021 side can have success in the AIG Women's Open.
For now, though, Matthew is looking forward to playing the first AIG Women's Open at Royal Troon in her native Scotland, and would love to add to the memories of nine Open Championships there.
"Obviously as a British person the AIG Women’s Open is the one you’d want to win," Matthew said. "I think being on courses like Troon, Lytham, Birkdale, where the men’s Open is played, just elevates the event as well. They're courses the public know and they’ve seen Seve playing out the car park at Lytham, for example, so they can kind of relate to the golf courses."
No matter what happens in 2020, Matthew has firmly established herself as a hero of the AIG Women's Open, a legacy that grows with each passing year both on and off the golf course.