As is usually the case these days, the 29th-best golfer on the planet was in fine fettle this past week in Abu Dhabi. And why not?
Over the past 24 months, Paul Lawrie has won three European Tour events, a boatload of cash, played with notable distinction in a winning Ryder Cup side, seen his life story published, opened a new golf centre bearing his name in his home city of Aberdeen and, perhaps most importantly for a man who never felt he got any credit for winning the biggest event in the game, finally gained the almost universal respect of his peers.
“Especially since the Ryder Cup, I’ve had a countless number of fellow tour players coming up to me to say ‘congratulations’,” says Lawrie, who turned 44 on New Year’s Day. “Even guys who I don’t normally have much to do with or just say ‘hello’ to have approached me to say ‘well done’ and pass the time of day. Which is nice.
“I would have expected something similar after I won the Open but it never happened, probably because of Jean Van de Velde’s triple-bogey on the final hole at Carnoustie. But that has changed. And I have changed, too. I’m a lot more at ease and at peace with all that goes on around me. I feel more confident, too. I’ve played well for a while now and that inevitably gives you a bit more in the way of self-belief, both on and off the course.”
Indeed, that feeling of wellbeing has seeped into every aspect of Lawrie’s life. No longer is he the tortured individual who, four years after he held aloft the Old Claret Jug in front of his ain folk, was treated for depression.
“I just feel better about everything,” he continues. “I’m more patient too. A few years ago a couple of missed cuts would have had me worried and impatient with my game. Not now, though. I’m able to keep going. Take last week in Durban. Not much was happening with my scoring but I hung in there and ended up making a few birdies near the end to haul myself up into a tie for seventh place. All because I have a good feeling about myself.
“That is a massive change from where I was. For a long time on tour my nickname was ‘patience’ because I didn’t have any. I’m better now in that respect, though. Last week in Durban I hit the ball great, made nothing on the greens, but stayed patient to the end. ‘Keep going,’ I told myself. So I did. And I ended up making two birdies in the last four holes and finished seventh. Before, my head would have been off and I’d probably have played those same holes in one over par rather than two under.”
Of course, there is more to playing well than a philosophical approach to missed putts and a jaunty outlook on life in general. There is a technical aspect to the game that must be addressed and mastered, at least to an extent. Or is there?
“This may surprise people, but it is only in the last two years that I have realised how my late coach, Adam Hunter, was right all along,” explains Lawrie. “He was always telling me to work only on rhythm when I was at tournaments. The technical stuff could all be done at home. That way, I could focus on that one thing and forget the odd poor shot along the way. If I had listened at first, I’d have been the player I am now six or seven years ago. I’m sad it has taken until after he has gone for me to know all of that.
“So all I work on is rhythm, the speed of my swing. When I hit a poor shot, it’s invariably when I lose that rhythm – becoming either too fast or too slow. People may find it amazing to hear, but I haven’t had a technical thought in my head for more than two years. I pick my target and concentrate on ‘slow away’ and ‘fast at the ball’. It’s that simple.”
Hang on a minute. A whole industry has been built around the premise that it takes enormous time and effort – books and magazines have to be bought, lessons have to be taken – to build even a semi-efficient golf swing. Now Lawrie is telling us all that really matters is the pace and flow of the swing? Keep talking, sir.
“I really don’t hit that many balls any more,” he continues. “I play more golf with the boys [sons Craig and Michael]. Even on a week at home I’m lucky if I hit 100 balls per day. But I’ll always spend at least 90 minutes on my short game and do a bit of putting at home.
“Once a player gets his swing to the certain level that you need, it just needs to be maintained. And that doesn’t mean hitting hundreds of balls.
“Plus, at my time of life, my swing isn’t going to change that much anyway, no matter how hard I work on it.
“Throw in the fact that the long-term problem I have with my left foot – it needs an operation and six to eight months of recovery time I don’t have right now – precludes me from practising too long anyway and I have what seems to be the perfect formula for me.”
Others have noticed the transformation in Lawrie, both as a golfer and a man. And writing his autobiography proved to be somewhat therapeutic, too.
“For a while it seemed like a lot of things were being written about me that were either not quite right or completely wrong,” he says. “It was annoying. Plus, I thought I had a story to tell, a pretty good story. Not many guys have turned pro at age 17 with a handicap of five and gone on to win the Open.
“Of course, even when I did the book I heard some say ‘more money for Lawrie’. I’d like it on the record that doing it has cost me money. I paid the ghostwriter myself. And all the books we bought from the publisher have been sold, all the money going to the foundation. How people think I can make money doing all that I’m not quite sure.”
In the end then, the biggest thing Lawrie has achieved over the course of a more than 20-year professional career is to be a man his fellow players can admire and feel comfortable with. Certainly, his team-mates at Medinah last September did much to bolster that view.
“Rory McIlroy said some nice things about me before the Ryder Cup and that gave me a boost,” recalls Lawrie. “We actually sat next to each other at the closing ceremony. The guys were joking around and someone said to me that my sons will surely think I’m ‘cool’ now. I didn’t think so, but Rory piped up and said they should be, ‘because their dad is pretty cool’. I was very flattered. When the number one player in the world says something like that it’s pretty nice.”