Revitalised Lawrie riding the wave
There are few better examples of careers that experienced a second wind than that of Paul Lawrie’s. The 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie was one in which Jean van de Velde took centre stage, and his implosion on the 72nd hole has been burned into our memories forever.
But another story to come from that day, which largely plays second fiddle to the antics of the unfortunate Frenchman, was the emergence of Lawrie, who rallied from 10 strokes behind in the final round to eventually lift the Claret Jug after a playoff.
It marked the graduation of a journeyman to a star, and Lawrie’s reward was his selection for Mark James’ Ryder Cup team that did battle at Brookline that year. In a losing cause, the Scot amassed three and a half points for Europe, and it confirmed beyond doubt that he belonged on the grand stage.
Three more steady years followed, and he picked up wins at the 2001 Dunhill Links Championship and the 2002 Wales Open at Celtic Manor resort. Although he narrowly missed out on selection for Sam Torrance’s victorious Ryder Cup team at the Belfry later that year, Lawrie had set the bar high, and it meant that what followed was comparatively mediocre.
He fell out of the top 50 in the European Tour Order of Merit after that, and in 2004 he finished a dismal 140th. Six more winless years followed, and, inadvertently, it took a nine-hole outing with his son one afternoon to inspire the man from Aberdeen to get his game back to the heights at which it used to soar.
“My oldest son beat me for the first time when he was 14, which was three years ago. It was about the time I decided that I was getting a bit lazy and was not putting the work in I should be,” Lawrie said.
“I was thinking of slowing down a wee bit, my playing schedule, playing a bit less and I was not very competitive on the tour at the time. I was not horrendous, but I was not as good as I should have been and then Craig beat me over nine holes and that just gave me the kick that I needed to be better.
“I was proud of him for beating me, but I was also quite disappointed. It is a difficult situation – you’re proud of him, but you think, man he should not be beating me!”
The blow to the pride clearly galvanised Lawrie into action, as he ended a nine-year trophy drought when he won the Open de Andalucía de Golf by Turkish Airlines in 2011. He broke into the top 20 on the Order of Merit for the first time since 2002 that year as a result, but Lawrie was far from finished.
Two more wins in 2012 followed, and, for the first time in 13 years, he forced his way into a European Ryder Cup team. The week was one of the great sporting spectacles of all time, and the former Open Champion took great confidence from being a pivotal part of the team.
“It was a frustrating week for me until the Sunday. I was four-under in my own ball when we got the five and four the first day. Peter (Hanson) and I played pretty sold, and Nicolas (Colsaerts) and I just did not get a putt the day that we lost by one, so it was a frustrating week. It did not feel that I did much wrong and I came out with nothing,” Lawrie recalled.
“Then, on Sunday, six-under after 15 holes. I hit some beautiful golf shots, holed some putts when I had to. You get huge self-belief and confidence from being number five on the list and the Captain telling you that the number fives have to win for us to have a chance of coming back. And you’re number five and go out there and you shoot six-under - you get a big boost from that.”
And after two highly successful years, Lawrie has no intention of slowing down either. A nine week holiday has been brought to a close at this week’s Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club, but, other than shedding some extra baggage from his time off, he plans to carry on from where he left off.
“My break was lovely, nine weeks it was. I put on nine pounds, just like everyone else. The next three weeks (I’ll lose it) - it's going to be quite difficult but it’s got to be done,” the 44 year-old quipped.
“Expectations are no more than they were start of last year. Just the same thing - play one week at a time. I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself. I know I'm swinging well. I know the putters a lot better, so we'll just see what happens.”