Golf: The day Lawrie looked smart

Andy Farrell examines the key influences that shaped a winner
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The Independent Online
WHEN ADAM HUNTER retired at the end of last season, his 14 years on the European Tour showed one victory. In his first seven years on tour, Paul Lawrie's victory tally was exactly the same. Since Hunter started coaching Lawrie this season, the 30-year-old Aberdonian has won a second Tour event and the championship every child dreams of winning, The Open, in such amazing circumstances last Sunday at Carnoustie.

Hunter's career is typical of many aspiring pros'. He showed enough talent early on to be a Scottish international at Boys and Youths level. He won a golf scholarship to Virginia College in the United States but it took the Glaswegian seven visits to the Qualifying School before he remained on Tour permanently. By his own admission, Hunter "made up the numbers" on Tour until his big moment, beating Darren Clarke in a play-off for the Portuguese Open in 1995. Last year, however, he missed 16 cuts in his 26 tournaments and finished 139th on the money list.

"When I came off the Tour," Hunter, 36, said, "I still thought I had something to offer. I had known Paul a long time and told him of my idea to set up a stable of players. No one was doing that in Scotland and Paul liked what I had to say and we took it from there."

The partnership has clearly worked. Hunter, having been on the other side of the fairway ropes, is wary of taking too much credit. "I was so proud for Paul but at the end of the day he was the one hitting the balls. But he is a dream to teach because he tries everything I ask. He had a bad leg action and the timing of his swing needed to be adjusted to enable it to stand up under pressure."

One reason the relationship has clicked so quickly may be Lawrie's respect for a man who until recently was in the same line of work. "Adam has been through it," Lawrie said. "He won a tournament and knows what it is all about. He has worked so hard with me and he has the whole package. He works on the game, fitness, diet and the psychological side."

The role of underdog in a play-off was one Hunter had also been through. "I remember Darren looked worse than I felt in our play-off in 1995," Hunter said, "and I told Paul that the other guys would be feeling the same way as him. I told him I believed he could go and win it.

"Whatever you say about the course and whether Jean Van de Velde should have won, Paul finished three, three. You can't ask for more, and there's a lot of guys who wouldn't have done it. When he went one ahead and hit the fairway at the 18th, I knew he would do it."

In the immediate aftermath of his victory, Lawrie said he wanted his success to be the precursor of more victories. "I won't be sitting back," he said. "I will work harder and want to win more tournaments."

From everything Hunter has seen so far, he concurs. "It will be a hard job to follow this up but I feel Paul can improve as a golfer," Hunter said. "There were little things in his routine I noticed on Sunday which need improving. There's loads we can do. But he hits it long and straight and he's got a fantastic short game. He's got plenty of bottle, as you saw on Sunday. I know I was probably too hard on myself during my career. But Paul is very strong mentally. He has a big heart and is very demanding of himself and everybody around him."

Lawrie had no thoughts of playing golf for a living until Doug Smart, the pro at Banchory on Deeside, who saw the youngster playing his father at the club and offered him a job as an assistant. Lawrie, who was then 17 and had a part-time job driving taxis from his dad's firm, did all the PGA training before getting a chance to play himself.

"Paul ate, slept and breathed golf," said Dean Vannet, a fellow assistant at the time. "He played golf at every opportunity and had a certain something even then."

"I will never forget him," Lawrie said of Smart, who committed suicide six years ago after discovering he had cancer. "He helped me a lot and gave me a chance in life. A very good mutual friend of ours sent me a fax saying that Doug would be looking down and smiling."

Four years ago, struggling for form and money, Lawrie considered becoming a club pro instead of the uncertain life on Tour. But his brother-in-law, Gary Giles, introduced Lawrie to Dr Richard Cox, a sports psychologist at Edinburgh University. Now Lawrie's problem is how he lives up to his new status and sudden change in schedule, including tournaments such as next month's US PGA and making his debut in the Ryder Cup in Boston in September.

"The expectation on Paul to excel in his next two or three tournaments will certainly be greater," said Cox, "but I am sure he has the temperament to see it through. He used to call me from tournaments to discuss where he was going wrong. We would meet regularly on a golf course and I would get him to talk about his shots out loud to me. He found it difficult at first but it helped. He has worked so hard over the last five years for what happened on Sunday."

Hard work and having the right people around him seems to have been the formula for guiding Lawrie to the top. It seems reasonable to rely on the same and ensure he stays there.