Colin Montgomerie has warned birthday boy Paul Lawrie to expect a “shock” when he sees the standard of play on the Champions Tour, even though he acknowledges the Aberdonian has the competitive fire in his belly for that new challenge.
Having turned 50 today, Lawrie is now eligible for the senior circuit and plans to mix some events on the Champions Tour with appearances on the European equivalent, the Staysure Tour, as well as the main European Tour in 2019.
He will be flying the Saltire on the Champions Tour along with Sandy Lyle and Montgomerie, who has chalked up three major victories and three regular triumphs on the US-based circuit since he turned 50 in the middle of 2013.
“We wish Paul well,” said Montgomerie of his fellow Aberdeen Standard Investments ambassador. “Now that Sandy doesn’t play that much, it will be nice to have some Scottish support out there.
“It’s becoming more international with Darren [Clarke] having come on board last season, [Miguel Angel] Jimenez doing as well as he is and [Bernhard] Langer, of course. We’ve got a nice little group together.”
Other recent newcomers have included Steve Stricker, Vijay Singh and John Daly, while others set to follow in Lawrie’s footsteps in the next couple of years are Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera.
Do the new boys get a fright at the standard? “Just phone Darren Clarke and ask him. Bloody hell,” replied Montgomerie. “We’d heard about how high the standard is, but it’s still a shock. If you don’t score 65 or 66 on the first day, you are playing huge catch-up.
“People think the courses are 6,600 yards, there’s no rough but hang on – this is PGA Tour set-up stuff. The greens are as quick as the PGA Tour and the pin positions are in places you’d think weren’t possible, on slopes, etc. You see them and think ‘what?’
“To make it even harder because I’m in that winner’s Hall of Fame category, I tend to play in the last three or four games of the 78 that compete. So, when I’m starting out I’m already five behind and thinking ‘bloody hell’. Then you’re thinking this putt on the first hole better go in or else you’re seven behind!
“It’s serious, my God they can play and it’s great because it’s super competition – and there’s more and more coming through. It’s getting harder every year. As I get older you’re seeing the next influx coming through like Paul, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera. You add that lot and it’s a hell of a tour.”
Lawrie, pictured, missed the second half of the 2018 season after shutting down his campaign due to a troublesome foot injury. He underwent surgery for a ruptured tendon and a torn ligament in September and has been gradually stepping up his recovery since early last month.
“He’s had his operation and is hitting balls again,” added Montgomerie of his partner in the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline. “He’s as competitive as anybody. But, as everybody else does, he will find it bloody tough. He will be under no illusion. He will know that himself. But he will still be even more surprised, yes he will.”
In preparation for his seventh season in the senior ranks, Montgomerie paid a visit to Florida last month to see Kevin Craggs, the former Scottish ladies’ coach who is now based at Bishops Gate in Orlando, where he took up a post as director of coaching in October.
“I had a poor year last year, finishing in the low 20s in the Schwab Cup money list after three seasons of being No 2. So I want to get it back again,” he said. “My foot injury wasn’t great last year but I’ve got that sorted out so I feel as if I want to go again. I’m keen as mustard, can’t wait. I’ve got new equipment coming out and it’s exciting so I look forward to the year ahead.”