HAVING won eight of the last ten matches, Europe would not appear to need any help in continuing to dominate the Ryder Cup. With no Seve Trophy on the schedule this season, though, Paul Lawrie is right to believe that the new match-play event at Murcar Links bearing his name can play its part in helping groom the next generation of European Tour players who can have an edge over the Americans in head-to-head combat.
The Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play takes place at Murcar Links on 30 July-2 August. It will involve 64 players in a straight knock-out, which is the preferred choice of the tournament host as opposed to the round-robin set-up in place for the WGC-Cadillac Championship starting today in San Francisco.
I think events like this will add to it and keep the Ryder Cup where it isPaul Lawrie
“I always enjoyed the Seve Trophy – it is something a bit different when you are just playing one other guy,” said Lawrie, who will need one of the two invitations up for grabs in his event unless he can propel himself up the Race to Dubai standings over the next three months.
“We are winning more Ryder Cups than we are losing which is great to see, but we need a couple of events like this one. I think events like this will add to it and keep the Ryder Cup where it is.
“I wanted it straight knock-out. It’s more exciting. If you win you move on, if you lose you go home. The Ryder Cup is a massive part of the Tour and hopefully this will be good preparation for some of the up-and-coming players.”
Lawrie, of course, has played in two Ryder Cups. On his return to the event in 2012 after a 13-year absence, he helped Europe pull off their “Miracle at Medinah” by beating Brandt Snedeker, who had just been crowned as the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup winner, 5 & 3 in the singles in Chicago. Through playing in events like the Seve Trophy, he developed a liking for match-play golf.
“I didn’t play a lot of top-level golf when I was an amateur,” recalled the Aberdonian. “I turned professional on a five handicap, so I was never good enough to play the Scottish Boys.
“My first real go at this format was probably the World Match Play. I obviously then got in the Ryder Cup team and my match-play record over the years is reasonable.”
Due to it being the week before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which is followed by the US PGA Championship, Lawrie is unlikely to attract top names in the way that Rory McIlroy has managed for the Irish Open at Royal County Down. He is confident, however, that there are plenty of rising stars on the European Tour who will be licking their lips at the dual prospect of playing a match-play event on a links course.
“The reaction from the boys on Tour has been good,” revealed the 1999 Open champion, who says it is too early to know who will be playing, but is looking forward to spreading the word about the new event when he embarks on a run that will take in the Spanish Open, the BMW PGA Championship and the Irish Open over the coming weeks.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for it. A lot of the guys haven’t played match play since the amateur days, so they are looking forward to that. It’s caught the imagination of the players.
“I’ve had a rough idea of doing this for a number of years. There is the WGC Match Play, but that’s only for the guys in the top 64 in the world. I had always thought that a match-play event would go down well and be proper practice for the guys playing in the Ryder Cup.”
European Tour rankings will determine the bulk of the field, with three spots to come from a mini order of merit plus those two invitations.
While he would prefer not to have to rely on one of those, Lawrie accepts that it is his most likely way into the event. With his knowledge of the host course, he has every reason to feel he can overcome some first-tee nerves by still being around when the event reaches the business end.
“The first tee might be a bit jittery, but you have all known me for a long time – I give the same amount of effort in every tournament I play and I give every tournament 100 per cent,” he said.
“An event with my name on it will obviously add a little bit of pressure to me but I have had that for 20 years. The pressure you put on yourself is harder than the pressure from other people.
“The fact it has my name on it doesn’t add any more to me, it is just exciting. It is just really exciting to have your name on an event on the European Tour that has looked after you for so many years.”
On visits to Old Trafford over the years, Lawrie and his family were always looked after by Sir Alex Ferguson, who, of course, managed his beloved Aberdeen during a trophy-laden spell from 1978 to 1986. It meant a lot to Lawrie, therefore, to hear Ferguson lend his support to the new event.
“Paul has achieved so much in the sport and has given so much back through his Foundation, so it is very fitting that he now has a European Tour event named after him,” said Ferguson.
“I have a big affiliation to Aberdeen and this is great for the region to have another top sporting event being hosted there.”