Paul Lawrie sets out this week on his 25th season on the European Tour, having kicked off the welly boots required for a huge cleaning-up operation at his flood-damaged golf centre on the outskirts of Aberdeen and turned his attention to the more enjoyable task of playing in the Joburg Open.
“The place was in a real mess,” said the 47-year-old of the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre, which he bought in 2012 and has invested heavily in, both in terms of its practice facilities and also as providing a base for a stable of professionals.
The damage was caused by the nearby River Dee bursting its banks, leaving Lawrie, his wife Marian and the centre staff facing a massive task to get it operational again once the water levels eventually receded.
“The lower part of the building and all the left-hand bays were badly damaged,” added Lawrie, who isn’t the type simply to put his name above the door and, therefore, certainly didn’t mind getting his hands dirty when, ideally, he’d like to have been practising hard for a new campaign.
“But all the directors are fully committed to repairing it and getting it re-opened as soon as possible. The staff, our Foundation pros and some volunteers have been amazing with the clean up and real progress has been made.”
As has been the case for Lawrie himself since he set out on his European Tour career in the 1992 Johnnie Walker Asian Classic in Thailand. With 570 events under his belt, he embarks on the 2016 season sharing 13th spot with Welshman Philip Price for most appearances on the circuit. Sam Torrance tops that list on 706, but Lawrie is only 33 behind another of his compatriots, Colin Montgomerie.
Helped by eight victories, the former Open champion is 22nd on the circuit’s career money-list with earnings of close to £9.3 million. Not bad at all when you consider his handicap was five when he turned professional in 1986.
“When Marian and I headed to Thailand for my first European Tour event back in 1992, neither of us probably thought we’d still be going strong 25 years later,” admitted Lawrie ahead of his first practice round for this week’s event at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club. “But here I am and I must admit that I’m pretty proud to have played on Tour for so long and will continue to do so.”
Last year, he “hated” having to rely on being in the top-40 money-list category to get into events. Finishing 101st on the money-list in 2015 means that is no longer the case. “I was pleased to finish high enough last year to save me using that category again,” he said. “I still really enjoy competing and, injuries permitting, I plan to play a full schedule. I feel I’m still competitive and still hit it far enough.”
Lawrie’s achievement in reaching such a milestone on the European Tour has been hailed by Greig Hutcheon, who was mesmerised by his work ethic as a junior member at Banchory and is now one of the professionals attached to the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre.
“Paul is a living legend,” declared the Tartan Tour player. “When I first met him, I was one of those annoying juniors at Banchory Golf Club who was always hanging around the pro shop. My initial memory was his level of practice as his work ethic was amazing. He put in a phenomenal amount of time and effort into hitting balls. I tried to keep up with him but he hit bag after bag after bag of balls.
“I remember Doug Smart, the Banchory pro at the time, being asked if he thought Paul had a chance of making it and he replied, ‘he works so hard that he can’t fail to make it’. He’s not only proved him right but gone on to become a world-class golfer and there can’t be too many that have retained a card as long as he has.
“He’s one of the European Tour’s greatest players, no doubt. You need a whole bunch of attributes to stay out there for as long as that. Whether it be ability, mental ability, dedication to all aspects of the game. Paul ticks every box in a big way.
“He might not hit the quantity of balls he did as a teenager, but he still practices hard and has those periods where he is really focused. Indeed, it would be no surprise at all if he won again on the European Tour.”
SIX OF THE BEST
1 Becoming the first Scot to win The Open on home soil for 68 years when he beat Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a play-off to claim the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 1999.
2 Hitting the opening tee shot on his Ryder Cup debut at Brookline in 1999 with Colin Montgomerie as his partner and going on to pick up three-and-a-half points from five.
3 Winning the first Dunhill Links Championship in 2001 by a shot from Ernie Els to claim a top prize of around £660,000 – his biggest European Tour cheque.
4 Breathing new life into his career as he returned to winning ways after a nine-year gap with victory in the 2011 Andalucia Open in Malaga.
5 Celebrating the fact he’d already sealed a Ryder Cup return by winning the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles – his third career triumph on Scottish soil.
6 Playing his part in Europe’s ‘Miracle at Medinah’ as he made some people choke on their words by crushing FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker 5&3 in the singles.