Twenty years. Really? It might not exactly seem like yesterday and the flashes of gray hair confirms that, but this week does indeed mark two decades since Paul Lawrie became Open champion at Carnoustie – the first Scot to win the game’s oldest major on home soil since Tommy Armour in 1931.
“Does it add pressure? Not really,” replied the 50-year-old of that anniversary being marked this week at Royal Portrush. “I’m hugely looking forward to Portrush. I’ve played there a couple of times before. The first time was with Darren Clarke, who lives in the County Antrim town. “Oh man, it just blew me away,” he added.
There’s another reason that Lawrie remembers that round and always will. It had been put up as an auction item by Clarke after Adam Hunter, the man who coached Lawrie when he got his hands on the Claret Jug in Angus and left a big void in the Aberdonian’s life after passing away from leukaemia in 2011.
“The two guys who bought it were mates of mine, so I went with them and we played with Darren,” recalled Lawrie, who is one of five Scots in the field for this week’s 148th edition. “Darren was in the play-off with Adam when Adam won the Portuguese Open. So when I mentioned the idea to him, he said it was a great idea, he was sorry to see Adam going and all that. He gave us the game of golf to auction, I think we got about five grand for it – and that went to Caroline [Hunter’s wife] and the kids.
“It was great of him to do it. I mean, he knew Adam but was never that pally with him or anything. So for him to go out of his way and do that, give us a day to sell for Adam’s family, that was tremendous. The golfing community always muck in together, don’t they?
“I remember it was a horrible day, pouring with rain, but he was absolutely brilliant with the two guys who had bought the game of golf. He organised for us to go and have dinner. Little things like that mean the world to people. And his family were certainly very appreciative of him doing that for them. It was a nice touch.”
Lawrie, who came from ten shots behind heading into the final round before beating Frenchman Jean van de Velde and American Justin Leonard in a four-hole play-off, missed out on a playing return in the event at Carnoustie 12 months ago due to a foot injury. He was there doing some commentary work and enjoyed seeing Sam Locke, a product of his junior foundation in the north-east, pick up the Silver Medal as leading amateur. However, nothing beats playing in this event for him and, not surprisingly, that special anniversary is being marked. “We’ve got a pro-am at Carnoustie, raising money for Beatson, where Adam was treated, and my foundation – we’re splitting the proceeds,” he said. “That’s the Monday after the Senior Open at Carnoustie. Then we have a 20th anniversary putter we’ve made, for sale here [at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre outside Aberdeen]. It’s got the Claret Jug on it and they’re all numbered one to 99, with my logo on the bottom.
“They’re absolutely stunning – and all the proceeds will go to my foundation. Sometimes people feel like you’re jamming things down their throats a little bit.
“So I thought a pro-am and a putter, those two things, would be enough for people. We’ll use my name and image for the benefit of charities.”
Clarke, the 2011 champion, has been handed the honour of hitting the opening shot at 6.35am on Thursday as the event returns to Portrush for the first time since 1951. “Will there be tears? No,” he insisted. “I’ll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland. It’s a huge thing. It’s going to be an amazing tournament. The atmosphere is going to be sensational.”