AMID all the highs – winning twice on the European Tour, climbing back into the world’s top 50 and, of course, playing his part in an incredible Ryder Cup victory – there was one blip last season that hurt like hell at the time in the pit of Paul Lawrie’s stomach.
“I feel I let an awful lot of people down,” he told The Scotsman in recalling the bitter disappointment of missing the cut in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. One of the pre-tournament favourites, Lawrie shot rounds of 73 and 69 to suffer just one of three early exits in 25 events last year.
“The crowds weren’t there just to watch me, I know that, and the Scottish Open certainly isn’t just about me, but I’m kind of the local guy up there,” he added. “I was having a good season, was in line for a Ryder Cup spot, then turned up there and missed the cut.
“That was hugely disappointing, especially since my record in Scotland is really good and you just couldn’t see it coming. I was playing really good. I was on a roll, having top-10s most weeks, then ‘bang’, you miss the cut in a tournament you really want to win.”
He came out the following week and opened with a 65 at Royal Lytham in the Open Championship then, little over a month later, produced a masterclass to win the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles – a third triumph on home soil. But, as Lawrie prepares for next week’s third instalment of the Scottish Open in Inverness, you sense he’s a man with a mission.
“It is usually the case in a season that you have quite a few disappointments as well as some successes,” admitted the 44-year-old. “But I would honestly say that the Scottish Open last year was my only disappointment.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’d love to win the Scottish Open before I pack it in – ideally it’s the one more event I’d like to win. So to go up there and play nicely from tee to green yet not be around for the weekend was definitely a huge disappointment.”
While excitement is already starting to build ahead of the tournament’s move to Royal Aberdeen next year – it will be the first time a European Tour event has been staged in the Granite City – Lawrie is reluctant to get too far ahead of himself.
“People are talking about the Scottish Open coming to Aberdeen, which is great as it’s obviously hugely exciting for everyone connected with the city,” he said. “But it’s about Castle Stuart this year then, as soon as that’s over, then we can start thinking about Royal Aberdeen.
“They’ve done a great job up at Castle Stuart. I was there to hit the opening tee shot of the season for them earlier this year and even then you could see it was taking shape. It does take time for these places to put their own stamp on a course, getting the cuts right and get the course flowing exactly how it should be. It’s a great course and they do everything well up there – the clubhouse is a nice size and they’ve got a great range as well.”
Regular followers of Lawrie’s blog will have noticed that some of his recent sessions on the range have included hitting shots with gloves under his arms. “From time to time my swing becomes long and upright and I have to try and flatten it out,” he said of that particular teaching method.
He occasionally gets swing advice from Andrew Locke, one of the professionals based at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre on the outskirts of Aberdeen, but any tweaks are minor. Though he has still to find top gear this season – only one top-10 finish in 12 starts has seen him slip to 46th in the world – the 1999 Open champion is sticking with the swing that is a fitting legacy to his late coach, Adam Hunter.
“When I went to see him in hospital, I made him a promise that I wouldn’t change anything and if I ever moved away from what he’d put in place with my swing I would try and get back to that and be happy with what I had,” revealed Lawrie.
“Along with a lot of other people, I still miss Adam every day, but just as much to talk about things in general as opposed to swing changes. We’d chat on the phone four or five times a day about all different things. There was only Stewart Spence, my wife, Adam and my best friend Colin Fraser that I’d chat things through with. When you lose someone so close to you it’s hard, of course it is. But you’ve just got to get on with it.”
Getting on with it for Lawrie lately has included the opening of a new short-game facility at his golf centre, where both the man himself and his wife, Marian, have had hands-on roles since it became the hub for the Paul Lawrie Foundation. “It’s a fantastic facility,” he said, looking out at the short-game area as he was speaking. “It’s cost a few quid to get it done, but it’s a part of the game I feel is so important for people to work on and, in my opinion, I now think we’ve got one of the best practice facilities in Scotland.”
No matter what it is, only the best will ever do for Lawrie. Next week, for instance before the Scottish Open gets into full flight, he’s hosting a pairs event at Skibo Castle, one of Scotland’s finest five-star facilities, and will have Sandy Lyle concluding a clinic. It’s a fund-raiser for his foundation, which provides North-East youngsters all sorts of sporting opportunities and, of course, earned Lawrie an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last month.
“It would be nice if they got my name right this time – that would be a good start,” he joked in looking forward to a second visit to Buckingham Palace, having admitted in his biography released last year that he’d been annoyed when officials announced him as “Peter Lawrie” when receiving an MBE.