Major champion Paul Lawrie on Open victory and Ryder Cup joySeptember, 2015
Mark Townsend speaks to the most grounded Major champion in golf
Paul Lawrie is, in his own words, a ’back of the room kind of guy’.
He doesn’t court the limelight, yet last month he put his name to a new European Tour matchplay event. His initial plan was not to have his name attached but he was gently persuaded and 64 of the continent’s best players came to battle it out over Murcar Links in Lawrie’s native Aberdeen.
Murcar isn’t the longest or the most eye-catching course in Scotland but, like Lawrie, it is rock solid and can be relied on to deliver.
Aged 17, Lawrie turned pro off a handicap of five, when he ’wasn’t a very good player’ by his own estimation.
Yet here he is today approaching 600 European Tour events, with eight wins, two Ryder Cup appearances and a Claret Jug to his name.
. . .
This year you were up there after two rounds of the Open. Sixteen years ago you became the first player in the modern day format to go on to win the Open after coming through final qualifying..
I went through the 36-hole qualifying at Downfield. The stories have got more far-fetched as the years have gone, we’re now up to three birdies in the last four holes.
I think the reality is that I made two birdies in the last eight holes to make it by two but I suppose not many come through qualifying to win it so it’s understandable how the story gets exaggerated.
It’s a lovely course, really good, I’ve only played there two or three times since I’m an honorary member there and we had our junior jug there.
What was the goal when you teed off on Sunday morning, 10 shots behind Jean Van De Velde?
The only thing I was thinking about was the top four which would get me into the Masters. I teed off 13th equal and four or five shots behind fourth, so that was kind of a mini goal. I’m not really a big goal setter but that was at the back of my mind.
What are your memories of that final-round 67?
I played with Patrick Sjoland, that I do remember. In my book the first chapter was going to be where I hit it and what I was thinking about but I couldn’t remember enough about it, I could only remember three or four holes, so we changed that idea pretty quickly.
I skipped the burn at the last, I hit it in the left rough, I had a poor lie and had something like 180 to carry the burn. I was four shots behind and thought I might not get another chance so took it on, it came out low, just short of the burn and jumped over it and went in the left-hand bunker. And I up and downed it.
Basically it was Colin v Tiger and we won 2&1 Where were you when Van de Velde was playing 18?
I was on the range with my coach, Adam Hunter, and Paddy who was caddying for me was Jean Van de Velde finds trouble at Carnoustie watching a TV in the shed where they keep the balls.
Paddy said his tee shot wasn’t in the water at the last so we made our way into the clubhouse. Then, as we got nearer the clubhouse, Dougie Donnelly was watching on a BBC monitor and we watched Jean from the bunker onwards. Then later we saw him play the whole hole.
What was the mood like in the play-off?
Van de Velde was telling jokes and he had a policeman’s helmet on, which was a bit odd, and he was very jokey. I thought he was trying to cover his nerves so I just stood there and didn’t say very much.
Then Justin Leonard arrived and he looked really nervous and quite ill; he had the most to lose, he had won two years previously and he was the favourite. So I didn’t say an awful lot or do an awful lot basically because I was crapping myself.
What about your first Ryder Cup, at the infamous Battle of Brookline in 1999?
Monty and I were on the tee in the first match out on the Friday morning and the referee came over and introduced himself. He was a fair age to be fair and he said ’hello, I’m Scotch’ and Colin replied ’That’s a drink, that’s a drink, that’s a drink’.
Then he came out with pictures of his grandkids. I was now 30 seconds away from hitting the opening shot in my first Ryder Cup and Colin is at the back of the tee in tears. And we were playing Mickelson and Duval, two of their best players.
And you beat them?
We won 3&2 and played nicely, we both hit a lot of good shots. Colin was like a man possessed with the putter that week, I don’t think he missed a putt from inside 15 feet the first two days. I had played with Colin a lot before but I learned a lot those two days, how to handle and go about things.
How involved did you get in each other’s games?
We spoke and he said he prefers to do his own thing with his caddy and suggested that we did the same. If we were stuck then we would just ask. Neither of us used our caddies to help on putts so now and again Colin and I would have a look at each other’s putts but that was very seldom.
Back then I was better at fourballs as I didn’t drive the ball very well but now my driving is a strength. When you are a poor driver foursomes is a tough game as you are apologising a lot but I drove it well that week and he putted as he did so it didn’t really matter.
On the Saturday afternoon we played Tiger and Steve Pate and Steve and I didn’t do an awful lot. Tiger was the World No 1 and Colin was 3. I chipped in at 16 and came in a couple of times but basically it was Colin v Tiger and we won 2&1.
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The Sunday singles at Medinah was a very different experience to that of Brookline, what was it like to be a part of that comeback?
There was a discussion of where we wanted to play. Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn came round and asked us and I said wherever was important. I felt like I had played pretty well and been a bit unlucky and putted poorly, so I felt like I was going to win a point.
Ollie said in his speech on the Saturday night that it was very important that we won five out of the first six games to get back into it, we were 10-6 behind, and I was No 5 so I was a bit more nervous than I would have been. I was six under for the 15 holes against Brandt Snedeker which was the best score that day.
I always like to think I can stand up and be counted when needed but it was nice to do it when it really mattered.
What was Ian Poulter like that week?
He was very vocal in the team room, he has got a lot to say and a lot of it is good and that’s what you want.
He enjoys all that. I’m the opposite, if they ask me a question then I’ve no problem answering it but I’m not going to offer my opinion unless I’m asked. I thought he was very good that week.
Your celebrations aren’t quite on that level are they?
I’ve never been a fist pumper or a hooper or a hollerer. I’m more on an even keel. At the end the boys were on the buggy and tooting the horn and in the PGA tent they were trying to get me up there but my wife and I were having a good time at the back.
I’m not someone who is going to jump on a buggy and start beeping a horn.