Golf-Open `99: Lawrie's big time bonanza

Open verdict: `It will make us secure for the rest of our lives but I won't change. I just want a Ferrari and a Porsche'
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The Independent Online
THE OPEN champion who never should have been was only just coming to terms with the enormity of his achievement yesterday. "Now I am sitting here with the claret jug and my name is engraved on it," Paul Lawrie said, "I realise I won the Open."

It will take longer for Craig Lawrie, four, to understand. "His dad has come home with this lovely silver trophy," said the first Scottish-born player to win the Open on home turf for 68 years, "but he doesn't have a clue what's going on."

That was roughly the state Jean Van de Velde, the Frenchman who is sponsored by Disneyland Paris, found himself in on the 72nd hole of the 128th Open Championship. Van de Velde needed no worse than a double-bogey six to win but blundered his way to a seven to fall into a three-way playoff with Lawrie and Justin Leonard, the champion two years ago.

"Jean should have won. No doubt about that," Lawrie admitted. "All he had to do was chip it down the fairway and make five. I'd have chipped it down the fairway. No disrespect, but I'm glad he did what he did. I personally feel he should have won but he didn't do what he needed to do. It's all about driving well, chipping well, putting well, thinking well. He didn't have one part of the jigsaw."

Lawrie became the first qualifier to win the Open since exemptions for the top players were introduced in 1963. He was also only the second player - after John Daly twice - since the world rankings began 13 years ago to win a major from outside the top 100. Lawrie jumped from 159th to 48th, while winning pounds 350,000.

"Obviously, it is going to make us financially secure for the rest of our lives but I'll not change one little bit," Lawrie said. "I'm a regular guy who works hard at what I do. I am definitely going to buy a Ferrari and maybe a Porsche as well, but I will definitely not be leaving Aberdeen. This is where I'm from and we'll be staying here the rest of our lives.

"This is just the start," he added. "There is no way I am going to sit back. Everything up to now has been because of hard work and I'm going to work even harder now to win more tournaments. There is no way I'll be happy with one British Open."

But Sunday night was a time to sit back. As he had done every other night, Lawrie drove the 65 miles from Carnoustie back to his home in Aberdeen to receive a congratulatory kiss from his wife, Marian, who was at home looking after Craig and seven-month-old Michael. "She hadn't come to the course because of the baby, not because she didn't think I could win," Lawrie said.

They watched a video of the play-off and, after Lawrie went to bed. But he could not sleep, so he got up and watched it again. "The adrenalin was still flowing. We sat up and chatted all night. Marian said she always hoped I would win a major and, deep down, I suppose I always thought I could."

He managed only an hour's sleep before the phone, which had been ringing "every 60 seconds" the previous night, started up again. His parents - James, a taxi-driver who used to ferry him around to junior tournaments, and Margaret - were watching in a pub in Majorca with his brother, Stephen, and there will be a reunion later this week. Last night he headed off to a reception at Newmacher, the club where he is the touring professional.

Lawrie preferred football as a child. "Not that I was any good at it," he said. Golf became his profession at the age of 17 when he was offered a job as an assistant in the pro shop at Banchory. "I came through the PGA scheme and did all the assistants' training. Then I started playing in pro-ams and then in four-round tournaments."

One of those pro-am wins was at Carnoustie in 1991 and the following year Lawrie joined the European Tour. The third round of the Spanish Open that year, he recalled, was the first time he played with his golfing hero. "He walked onto the tee and said, `I'm Severiano Ballesteros' and I thought, `I know who you are'. I told my caddie he was my hero and wouldn't it be nice to beat him."

He did, 68 to 70. But in 1995, when he was struggling for form and cash, he thought about quitting the tour. "I was thinking about taking a club job," he said. "I don't like doing things which I don't do well."

He worked with a sports psychologist, Dr Richard Cox, but this season switched coaches from David Leadbetter to Adam Hunter, the former tour player from Scotland. It was Hunter on Sunday who convinced Lawrie his last round of 67 could be good enough to win. "I didn't think six over was enough but Adam said the worst I'd have was in a play-off. He took me to the putting green and kept me focused."

After bogeying the first two holes of the four-hole play-off, Lawrie birdied the last two. "On the 15th tee I didn't feel good but the other two seemed as nervous as I was, Justin probably more because he was the one who was expected to win. But when I birdied the 17th, that was the moment I thought I could win. I couldn't see myself bogeying the last. I had practised too hard for that moment. I can't explain it, but I had a feeling at the start of the week that someone could come through who wasn't supposed to. With the knee-high rough and some of the big names complaining about it, which they are entitled to do, I felt if I kept quiet and did my own thing, I could come through."

And the last Open of the millennium was won by a 150-1 chance. "It's amazing how many people in Aberdeen had a bet on me," Lawrie said. But one punter only managed to get 16-1. "He must be gutted," said the new Open champion.

Open aftermath, page 23