'The lack of recognition for Catriona is a disgrace,' says Davies
Matthew begins Open title defence after a year in which sponsors ignored her amazing victory
Thursday 29 July 2010
Mum was very much the word at last year's Ricoh Women's British Open as Catriona Matthew completed a stunning 11-week journey from the maternity ward to the winners' enclosure. Alas, as far as the sponsors were concerned, mum carried on being the word for the Scottish champion. The phone never rang, the millions did not arrive.
In fact, as hard as this is to believe, in the weeks and months afterwards not a single penny arrived in endorsements. Matthew had to wait nigh on a year until a backer came forward and then it was hardly time to shout "Bingo!" Last week, a financial company at last announced that Matthew would be wearing their logo – for a whole two weeks. So today Matthew will set out here in the defence of her crown with "Aberdeen Asset Management" emblazoned on her baseball cap. Many here will view that as slightly ironic seeing as her country clearly does not recognise an asset when it has one.
"If a British bloke had won The Open they would have been knighted overnight," is the way Laura Davies put it when asked about the lack of kudos and euros for the home heroine. Yet perhaps the Queen should not blush too shamefully. At least she awarded Matthew an MBE and that was a damn sight more recognition than the BBC afforded her in their annual honours list. Despite being the host channel for one of the most heart-warming and courageous triumphs in the history of the game, the corporation failed to put Matthew on a shortlist of 10 for Sports Personality of the Year.
"That was a little disappointing," she commented yesterday. "I thought I might squeak into the nominations." This was as close to outrage as the press room will ever receive from the quietly-spoken character from North Berwick. Once again it was left to Davies to declare what everyone here has long been thinking.
"I think it's a disgrace," said Britain's most successful female golfer. "I voted for Catriona; I think she should have won it. But it's always been the same. The year I won two majors and 10 other tournaments, everyone said I had a good chance of winning it. I didn't even get mentioned in the programme. Women's golf just doesn't really figure in that show. It's called the BBC Sports Review of the Year so maybe they should review it."
In fairness to the corporation, the indifference does not start and stop with them or their voting viewers, a pitiful truth reflected in the fact that out of all the Scottish newspapers only one staff journalist has been sent down to cover the one world-class Scottish golfer. Apathy in the media has a habit of translating itself into apathy in the sponsors' tents and as Matthew pointed out: "It's a tough climate at the moment." Indeed it is, but the director of golf at IMG, the management giants who signed up Matthew straight after last year's glory, confirmed the climate is that much tougher on the feminine fairways. "If Luke Donald wins a major he would have the option of earning millions – Catriona didn't," said Guy Kinnings.
Naturally, no one will be shocked by the differential in earning power between the genders and perhaps women's tennis is a more appropriate comparison. If a British female ever did prevail at Wimbledon the noughts would rival the telegrams of congratulations in number. Unfortunately they did for Matthew, too. "No, I didn't get many messages last year," she said. "The ones I did were from people who were amazed I could come back and be playing and winning a major so quickly. Maybe looking back it was quite special, just 11 weeks after having a baby."
Little Sophie is not here this week and neither is her three-year old sister, Katie. They are with their grandparents in Scotland while Mummy, together with Daddy/caddie, Graeme, attempt to stage the sequel which may or may not be entitled, "Supermum Flies Again". Matthew has not exactly pulled up any tees in the last 12 months, although has performed consistently enough to remain in the world's top 20 and goes in with an obvious chance. "I've really been looking forward to this all year," said the 40-year-old. "My new coach, Kevin Craggs, thinks I'm playing really well this week and this tournament is pretty wide open."
In truth, the entire women's game is wide open after the retirement of first Annika Sorenstam and then, in April, her successor as the Iron Lady, Lorena Ochoa. The resulting power struggle is reflected in the rankings which show that in the last month there have been three world No 1s. And the winner may well come from Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato and the current incumbent, Jiyai Shin. However, a more popular champion for a women's sport desperate for the exposure would be Paula Creamer, the all-American high school idol who prevailed at the US Women's Open three weeks ago. But obviously not as popular as Michelle Wie.
Now there's one lady who would not be short of an endorser or six million if she could finally turn all that hype into a major. Wie knows her way around these wind-swept dunes, having finished third at Birkdale as a 15-year-old amateur five years ago. But yesterday there were fears she didn't know her way around Britain and had travelled to the wrong end of the country. "It's great to be in Southampton," she wrote on her Twitter page. Thankfully, it was a mistake. "It's Southport right?" she asked journalists later. "We're in England, correct? At least I now know."
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