BERNARD Gallacher, the three-time Ryder Cup captain, reckons Paul Lawrie is “too good” to have only played once in the biennial match against the Americans and is confident the former Open champion can use his flying start to the season to bridge a 13-year gap by getting back on the European team this autumn.
After his four-shot success in the Qatar Masters on Sunday, when he closed with a seven-under-par 65 to emulate his 1999 victory in the Middle East event, Lawrie has climbed to fourth on the European points list, which will provide five of the ten automatic selections for Jose Maria Olazabal’s side to defend the Ryder Cup at Medinah in September.
Lawrie’s only experience of facing the Americans came at Brookline in 1999, when, in a rare occurrence for a rookie, he was used in all five sessions by the much-maligned Mark James and emerged with three-and-a-half points from five, two of which stemmed from excellent wins in the company of fellow Scot Colin Montgomerie.
More than a decade on and at the age of 43, Lawrie’s hopes of making a Ryder Cup return are looking promising, especially after his win in Doha, where he recorded a fourth top-ten finish in a row for the first time in his career, lifted him back into the world’s top 50 for the first time since 2003 and, in doing so, re-opened a whole host of doors.
For starters, he’s now joined compatriot Martin Laird, still the highest-ranked Scot at No 38, though now only nine places above Lawrie, in the field for the first WGC event of the season, the Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in Arizona, in just a fortnight’s time.
He’s also secured a spot in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral a fortnight later and, if Lawrie can stay in the top 50 until the beginning of April, he can look forward to making a first Masters appearance since 2004 as well, with a US Open return in San Francisco later in the year also now on the cards after a similar eight-year gap.
Lawrie, who was already exempt for the Open Championship at Royal Lytham in July as a former winner, is also now in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at the beginning of August and, with the majors and WGC events carrying massive world ranking points, Gallacher believes the Scot has given himself an excellent chance of being back on the Ryder Cup stage again.
“Paul is certainly well on his way in terms of trying to qualify for this year’s team,” Gallacher told The Scotsman. “He’s too good to have only played in one match in his career. He played very well at Brookline and had a great partnership with Colin Montgomerie.”
Gallacher said he’d been puzzled to hear one of the Sky golf commentators say he felt becoming a major champion had been “good and bad” for Lawrie, but he did concede that he believed the Aberdonian’s career had “stalled a bit” due to the time and effort he’s devoted to his acclaimed Foundation in the north-east.
“I wouldn’t go as far to say that was causing him to under-achieve but I, for one, felt there was more potential there and I wonder if perhaps others have said that to him in the last year or so,” added the Ascot-based Scot.
Lawrie said after the win in Qatar that he is playing the best golf his career and that view is shared by David Law, who came through the ranks of Lawrie’s Foundation to become a double Scottish champion and has played and practised regularly with his mentor over the past few years.
“For me, the biggest difference I’ve noticed with Paul’s game is he is rolling in putts regularly. In saying that, I’ve never seen him swinging with so much rhythm or confidence,” said Law, who watched part of Lawrie’s final round in a bar in Istanbul airport on his way back from playing in the EPD Tour in Turkey.
“What I’ve also seen first hand is his work ethic. He still works unbelievably hard and has the desire to get better. After the career he has had, to see him really wanting to improve is truly inspirational.”
Gallacher believes Law won’t be alone in that respect. “Paul is a great example to the rest of the Scots on the European Tour, including my nephew Stephen,” he observed. “I know they all spend a lot of time together, on and off the course, and hopefully some of the positivity will rub off on the others.”
News of Lawrie’s latest win was greeted warmly in Argentina, where Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management and the Scot’s long-time playing partner in the Dunhill Links Championship, is currently on business.
“Paul is the first golfer that Aberdeen Asset Management ever supported and we’ve been with him since 1999, so we’ve seen a lot of his career first-hand,” said Gilbert. “No golfer does more for the amateur game in Scotland than Paul and he is a terrific role model and mentor for young Scottish players.
“It’s great that his game has got a second wind and he is experiencing success again. It certainly helps the profile of the game in Scotland when one of our stars is playing well.” Lawrie’s climb back up the world rankings has coincided with a return to Wilson, the same club manufacturer he was with when he became Open champion.
“Paul is a superb ambassador for the brand and since returning to Wilson Staff irons in 2010. He is now showing what a great player he is,” said Doug Wright, Wilson Golf’s business director for Europe.