Up, up and away for Supermum. Two weeks after Tom Watson proved to old people everywhere that a hip replacement does not necessarily herald the end of competitive sport, so the remarkable Catriona Matthew is sending out the same message to females who have recently given birth. Evidently it does not have to herald endless months of nappy-changing.
Today, only 10 weeks and six days after having her second daughter, Matthew takes a three-shot lead into the final round of the Ricoh Women's British Open. What a chance the Scot has of becoming the first home champion in five years. Certainly on her form of yesterday.
Despite this being only her seventh competitive round in five months, it was Matthew who, among the final groupings, appeared most in control of her game and her emotions. Initially her co-leader overnight, Italy's Giulia Sergas, threatened to steal a march but then followed Matthew's favoured inward half. On a back nine feared throughout the golfing world, Matthew began with a 35-footer for birdie and proceeded to construct a two-under 35 for a 71.
It wasn't the seven-under, record-breaking spectacular of the previous day, but this was no time to be gung-ho and her measured approach advanced her to four-under and to the brink of the £200,000 first prize. Only one other player is under par: Christina Kim following her own 71. Kim is a renowned rowdy Solheim Cup performer who also differs from the quiet and diminutive Matthew in her body shape. As Peter Alliss put it, this will be a veritable "Laurel and Hardy" pairing. "I don't know that show, but I'm going to take that to mean opposites," said the 25-year-old American. "Catriona is a phenomenal player, an absolute diamond and I adore her."
The biggest challenge to Matthew, however, may come from a few names lower down the leaderboard. While Michelle Wie is surely too far back on seven-over, on level par is the darling of Japan, Ai Miyazato. She prevailed at the Evian Masters last week and is beginning to live up to her superstar billing. On the same mark, perhaps lurking most menacingly, is the defending champion, Shin Ji-Yai.
Her best-of-the-day 68 yesterday was as ominous as it was impressive and once again her short, compact style sent the mind back to Ian Woosnam. As did her refreshing step-up-and-hit-it policy. If Shin does retain her title then she has promised to perform her pop song, which has become one of South Korea's best known tracks. In truth, it would sound like a lament to the home gallery.
How the female game in this country could do with a home winner, particularly such an inspiring one. "There will be nerves, but I just need to keep on playing just like I am," said Matthew, who let slip a one-shot lead in the final round at Sunningdale in 2001. "I'm hitting my irons better than the last couple of years. It's funny because of the birth of Sophie, I started practising about five weeks ago. During the season I find it difficult to practise, so the break has done me good I think."
Matthew's heroics here have masked what has been a dreadful tournament for the home guard. Out of a contingent of 19, a pitiful five made the cut. It was probably an unfair comparison, but in the men's equivalent at Turnberry, 17 appeared on the weekend. But it is when one analyses the ages of the British women teeing it up today that the reality truly bites. Only Vikki Laing is under 35 and with respect to the former junior champion, at 28 and eking out a living on the nether tours of America, she is hardly expected to light up the British golfing future.
The reasons for the poor showing? Probably the same reasons of development and talent as they were last year. Going into the final round at Sunningdale Britain could not boast a single representative in the top 20. This time around there is one; and she just happens to be No 1. Matthew, just three weeks shy of her 40th, would not only be doing this for new mums all over. It is no exaggeration to say Matthew could be on the verge of giving birth to an entire generation of British female golfing professionals. Supermum, indeed.
Tip of the week
No 12: timing, rhythm, power
Often I'm asked: 'What is the secret to hitting the ball a long way?' One of my members said he's sure pros sign a pact not to let on "the secret" to amateurs. I tell anyone I teach that to hit it further you must hit it better. So what is better? Better means having an 'in-to square-to-in' swing path through impact. Put simply, stand upright and hold the club horizontally out in front of you (parallel to the ground). Now swing the club like a baseball bat around your body. This is exactly the feel you want when swinging the club. You should feel there is very little effort and a lot of rhythm. Just tilt forward and repeat your baseball swing. You'll hit the ball better instantly.
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey www.theshortgame.co.uk