The Interview - Paul Lawrie: Lack of recognition the major obstacle as a champion does his best to be the best

The last Briton to win the big one is seeking the right balance. Andy Farrell meets a golfer coming to terms with his obsession
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When Paul Lawrie holed a three-iron at the 17th hole during the final round of The Open Championship at Royal St George's in 1993 it caused momentary panic in the Radio Kent outside- broadcast van. "Tell us about Paul Lawrie," was the not unreasonable question to the so-called expert.

No notes, no reference books; a few bare facts were dredged from the memory. Lawrie was only in his second season on the European Tour. He was a friendly young Scot from Aberdeen who had won the Under-25s Championship the year before. His wife, Marian, had joined him on Tour and was caddieing for him. He had met Doug Sanders, the man who so nearly won The Open in 1970, through Sanders' World Juniors competition at Royal Aberdeen.

Later, when Lawrie was shown on the television playing the 18th hole, a slightly less reasonable question was posed. "You were telling us about Paul Lawrie, tell us a bit more." The uncomfortable radio silence that followed must have made it obvious that this aghast observer had exhausted his knowledge.

Of course, the CV has filled out since then. A first European Tour victory arrived in 1996, with four more following, including the Dunhill Links at St Andrews in 2001 and the Wales Open last year. He played in the Ryder Cup at Brookline in 1999 and was the joint top points-scorer. But he booked his place in the history books by winning The Open at Carnoustie four years ago. If it was an amazing victory at the time, it is even more amazing that no British or European golfer has won a Major championship since. Yet, as he prepares to return to Sandwich for next week's Open, just how well do we know Paul Lawrie?

There is no real mystery. Lawrie is the most straightforward of men. He is a family man, still living in his home town of Aberdeen. He plays golf, is rather good at it, and loves practising. In fact, early last week he was reeling from the news that he should practise less. "I have probably been working too hard," he said. "I wanted to get into the top 10 in the world, that is what I said I wanted to do, and I assumed I would have to work harder in order to achieve that.

"But according to my coach and the people around me I should be working less. I need to be sitting on my arse and watching television more. I don't tend to be someone who sits around watching TV. It's not easy for me. Even on a week off I'll be working five to six hours a day. I have always thought the harder you work, the better you will be. Perhaps it is a little obsessive, but that is how it is for me."

The reassessment came from his coach, Adam Hunter, with whom he has worked since before winning The Open, and Alan Fine, a sports psychologist he met last year. "Alan sees me working hard on the physical side of things, but not working enough on the mental side. That's fair enough, fair comment. If I step up that side of things he is in no doubt I can become the player I want to become. That's what I'll be concentrating on for the next year.

"Part of it is simply chilling out. It is difficult to think that by not hitting balls you can become any better than anyone else. But the guy watching the telly is actually fresher than I am after all the hard work. It's finding the right balance.

"Then I need to be less hard on myself while I'm playing golf. I am very critical, and I was talking about that with Darren [Clarke] when we were playing together recently. He said we were very similar. We were both fantastic players, we've got all the shots, but it is our patience that lets us down. I've chatted with Thomas Bjorn as well. He is another who has all the talent but maybe doesn't always get the best out of his golf.

"It doesn't matter where you hit it. That's the thing. Just put the club back in the bag and go and find it. All that matters is what score you write down on the card. When Lee Westwood was at the top of his game he was brilliant at that, and when I'm playing well that's how I am. But when I start to struggle, I start to get frustrated. Look at [Bernhard] Langer, he's the best. Whether he has hit a good shot or a bad shot, his attitude does not change."

Having given this frank critique of his game, Lawrie is not shy in giving his opinion on what has provoked such an intense desire to succeed. "I am always aggrieved by the lack of recognition that I receive being a Major winner," he said. "Some of my attitude definitely comes from the fact that I have not got the respect I think I should get as a Major winner. I just don't understand why. I just don't get it. I am constantly trying to prove myself as one of the best players in the world."

Lawrie won what was one of the most controversial Opens for decades. The Carnoustie course was fearsomely difficult given the conditions, but the Frenchman Jean van de Velde was easing to victory until a triple-bogey at the last. Lawrie, who had started 10 strokes behind the leader, closed with a 67 and eventually won a four-hole play-off against Van de Velde and Justin Leonard with birdies at the last two holes. He was the first Scottish-born winner since Tommy Armour in 1930. He lived an hour up the road, and was a 150-1 outsider who came through qualifying to win (as Van de Velde would have been).

"Even at the time all people wrote about was Jean van de Velde. OK, he should have won, but he didn't. It doesn't sit well with me, as you can see. I shot a 67 on the last day and birdied the 17th and 18th to shoot level par in the play-off on probably the hardest four holes in golf when it was dark and wet and blowing a gale. I can't see how people can criticise that.

"I want the recognition for my golf. I was the top points-scorer in the Ryder Cup when I played and I've achieved more in my career than most guys ever will. But I don't want to be a star. I probably should have been more available to the press and put myself about a little bit more. But I wanted to be the same person I always was. I didn't want to be a celeb in the papers every day, saying: 'Look at me'. I am very much a person who does his work and then goes home."

It is perhaps this dilemma that explains why the 34-year-old, apparently taciturn Scot is not lauded as the last Briton to win a Major. There is much to admire about a man with a strong work ethic, who has been able to move into a dream house but also to remain close to his roots and his friends. Being Open champion may have brought certain hassles, but also some pleasures. He sponsors the kit of the Aberdeen Under-15s football team. He also sponsors and mentors two young professionals, Mark Loftus and Claire Hunter, as well as running a junior development programme for local youngsters.

"I love the fact that I have the junior development programme to give children the chance to play golf," he said. "Around 1,000 kids have been introduced to the game since we started and that's a great feeling. If they don't like it that's fine, they can go and try something else, but at least they had a chance to play the game. These are not things I make anything of, and probably people don't know anything about them, but I haven't done them in order to shout about them."

As for why no other European has won a Major since Carnoustie, Lawrie is at a loss. "It's not a record I particularly want," he said. "Four years is a long, long time. We've won the Ryder Cup in that time, but why no one has won a Major I just don't know. It absolutely baffles me."

That he has decided to concentrate on the Majors is obvious from his decision to miss this week's Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in favour of playing links golf in the run-up to The Open. His preparation includes a quick visit to St George's to see the changes to the course since the last Open there. "I feel this is the time to be playing links golf. St George's is very linksy as far as I can remember. It was a great week for me last time, and holing that shot on the 17th was a great moment. The Scottish Open is a fantastic tournament at a superb venue, but The Open is the big one. You are judged on your Major record."

In that case, Lawrie is already ahead of the game. But while others strive for their first Major title, you get the feeling Lawrie is striving even harder for a second.

"A second Major would be great," he said, "three would be even better." Perhaps, in the end, this is all you need to know about Paul Lawrie.

Biography

Paul Lawrie MBE

Born: 1 January 1969 in Aberdeen.

Turned professional: in 1986 and won the Scottish Assistants' Championship in 1990.

Joined European Tour: in 1992 and has won five times since.

First victory: 1996 Catalan Open.

Star moment: winning the 1999 Open at Carnoustie.

Ryder Cup career: played in 1999 at Brookline, hitting the opening shot and finishing the tournament as joint leading points-scorer.

Also: holds an honorary law degree from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. Is an Honorary Life Member of the European Tour. Awarded an MBE in Queen's Birthday Honours.

Comments