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CATRIONA MATTHEW - What is the shape of women's golf?

Monday, 25 March 2024

Find out the state of play that ladies’ golf is in at the moment with the unique insight of two-time Solheim Cup winning captain Catriona Matthew, who won her Women’s British Open just 11 weeks after giving birth to second daughter Sophie.

In a sport traditionally seen as male-dominated, women’s golf has enjoyed a boom in popularity over recent years. According to the National Golf Foundation, the female golfer pool jumped by 15% in the three years from 2020 to 2023, compared to just 2% in the men’s game. When the organisation first began tracking golf participation in 1986, only 14% of golfers under 18 were female. Now that number stands at 38%.

It all points to a sport that is really embracing the inclusion and participation of women, and that is a theme that two-time Solheim Cup winner Catriona Matthew has echoed.

“I think women’s golf is in really good shape. In the last 15 or 20 years, women’s sport in general has really boomed and you can see that in different sports such as football. It seems equality is happening, and more sponsors are wanting to come in and that is only helping the women’s golf scene.”

Catriona, who is the first ever Ladies Amateur Curtis Cup captain and Solheim Cup captain, has enjoyed a stellar career at the top of the ladies game. As well as back-to-back victories leading Europe to victory against USA in 2019 and 2021, ‘Beany’ has six ladies European Tour wins, and four LPGA Tour successes on her CV.

But perhaps even more impressively, Catriona won the Women’s British Open in 2009, just 11 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Sophie.

Catriona is, by all means, an impressive role model that a lot of women can look up to, whether they are just starting out in sport, or if they are not sure what they can achieve after they have become mothers. But where did Catriona’s journey begin? And as a woman, what was it like for Catriona to get started in the world of golf?

How did Catriona get into golf?

Catriona comes from a family of golf-lovers, with her mum, dad and two brothers avidly playing, and that propelled ‘Beany’ into getting involved in the sport.

“I started playing golf with my brothers and mum and dad in Berwick on a little kid’s course. The longest hole was 130 yards and during the summer holidays, they ran some events for under 10s and under 14s.

“I was a real sportsperson and played all different sports like hockey and badminton in winter, and golf in the summer. At 15 or 16 years old I was playing in a few events further afield and I did quite well and won some of them so I decided golf was my best sport - it’s amazing what a bit of success does when you’re deciding what sport to play!”

Her brothers were a big factor in getting into golf, but she admits that at the time, there were not many young girls involved in the sport, despite how welcome she was made to feel at North Berwick Golf Club.

“I played a lot with my older brothers and there was another girl who played golf and we played at county level. There was very little golf at school but I was able to play through my mum and dad and brothers. It was generally all boys but they had two or three junior girls.

“The women were very encouraging when I played with them but I don’t think it was a really challenging environment or anything like that - it’s just how it was back then. Hopefully things are changing and have changed and hopefully more girls are getting into golf.”

What leadership lessons can Catriona impart?

Winning two Solheim Cups doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes great leadership to achieve that sort of success. Catriona is well-placed to give advice on leadership, and the key to building success not just in sports teams, but in wider life.

For Catriona, communication is the most important characteristic for any leader.

“I have just learned that from playing in teams, for me, it comes down to communication. People always want to know what’s going on, they want to know, ‘Are you playing or are you not playing?’

“Some people may seem to know and some don’t so it’s about communicating with people about what’s happening so that they don’t hear rumours because then there’s discord if everyone is talking.”

What would you tell yourself if you were to start all over again?

Power seems to be more prevalent in golf, and Catriona has seen an upturn in people carrying out activities such as weight training in order to be able to hit the ball further.

But from a more general perspective in terms of women in sport, she would encourage everybody to make sure they enjoy the game, and not to get swamped in the pressure that can come about with competitive tournaments.

“I think going back to myself, if I were to start all over again, I would say to try to hit the ball as hard as you can.

“If you can learn that at a good age then that’s beneficial because both the men’s and ladies’ game seems to be going down the power route with weight training and different things. When you’re young, if you can, get that speed into it and hit it as hard as you can.

“I’d also say to try to enjoy it and try to encourage others to play.”

It is very true that enjoyment and friendship are key pillars to continue growing a sport that is clearly trending in the right fashion at the moment. And you never know, why not pick up your clubs and see what you can achieve?

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