Even in a tournament like the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with its bigger-than-normal field and supporting cast of celebrities, there are usually lots of new clubs to go around in those giant Tour trucks that trundle from event to event around Europe.
That wasn’t the case 14 years ago, however, when a rep for one of the equipment manufacturers turned up at the same event with just one Odyssey two-ball putter and led Paul Lawrie – unashamedly so – to run off with it after achieving instant success.
“I had been playing lovely the whole year and putting poorly,” recalled the Aberdonian of an episode that helped him become the event’s inaugural winner that season after it changed to its current format from a team event. “I was on the putting green at Kingsbarns and Seamus, the Odyssey rep, had the putter with him. I putted with it for ten minutes before refusing to give it back. I ended up running off with it and, luckily, I was quicker than him back then.”
Armed with the new weapon, Lawrie followed opening rounds of 71 and 68 with a 63 before closing with a 68 to win by a shot from Ernie Els. “I holed everything that week, especially on the Saturday,” he added. “I was ten under through 12 holes at the Old Course before bad light stopped play and ended up shooting nine under. I just putted magnificent.”
While that particular putter has long since been consigned to the golfers’ scrapyard, Lawrie, one of those with a 100 per cent attendance record in the tournament, is heading into the 15th staging of the £3.3 million pro-am feeling more confident than he has done for a long time that he can hole those all-important putts, either to make inroads against par or to avoid spillage.
“I’ve been putting a lot better,” he said in reflecting on top-10 finishes in his last two outings – the Made in Denmark event and the KLM Open. “I got a new putter from Caledonia putters that has different grooves on it. I’ve always had quite a long stroke and always decelerated a wee bit. This putter has slightly firmer grooves and I’m rolling it a lot better. I’m getting the ball to the hole much easier and it’s been great. My putting stats are much improved compared to what they were before. When you start holing putts, it goes through your whole game. Confidence just builds and builds. You can see that with Jordan Spieth last week. When you hole putts like that, it’s almost impossible not to win. I’m not putting at the level I did in 2001 at the moment, but it’s as good as I’ve putted for months.”
Having climbed to 88th in the Race to Dubai through his encouraging recent efforts, Lawrie, who joined Marc Warren in helping to launch Scottish Golf Limited, the new amalgamated body to run the amateur game in this country, is still in with a chance of making it to the starting line for the European Tour’s lucrative “Final Series”. “My game has been slowly but surely building into getting better again,” said the 46-year-old as he prepared to link up once more with Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert, his long-time playing partner in the event played at Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrews. “I’ve got this week then next week in Portugal to get myself into Turkey (by climbing into the top 60 on the money list). That’s the first goal then, if I can get in there, then the next goal will be getting into the final of the Race to Dubai. In 2011, I finished second in that event to gain a massive amount of ranking points. It takes a week that size to get yourself going again and I still feel if I can play decent this week and the next couple weeks, I can get myself in a position at the end of the year where I’ve racked up a few points. It just breeds confidence. It just goes through you when you start playing decent, start earning some points, start earning money and off you go.”
This week’s field contains five players from the world’s top 25 – Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer, Branden Grace and Danny Willett. It’s Lowry’s first appearance on European soil since the Irishman won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in July and he’s returning to action with some “goals going forward”, notably a Ryder Cup debut in 12 months’ time.