Martin Laird has missed some big events over the past three years. Last summer’s Scottish Open, for example. It had to be dropped from his schedule as the Glaswegian fought to hang on to his PGA Tour card. That particular task has already been ticked off the list this season, meaning Laird will be back for his home open next month. The sponsor’s invitation he’s just secured for the event’s first visit to Dundonald Links was the second thing to put a smile on his face. It came hot on the heels of the 34-year-old qualifying for next week’s US Open.
Laird’s appearance in the season’s second major at a new venue for the event, Erin Hills in Wisconsin, is his first since 2013, when he tied for 21st behind Justin Rose at Merion. The Scot, in fact, has only played in one of the last 13 majors, having teed up in the previous 14. He’s excited to back on one of the game’s biggest stages, joining Russell Knox and Richie Ramsay in flying the Saltire on this particular occasion.
“I have definitely missed being a part of the majors for the last three or so years and I think I maybe took them a little bit for granted when I was exempt into them for a stretch of a few years,” admitted Laird, who comfortably passed his 36-hole sectional qualifying test in Ohio last Monday. “I always felt lucky to be there and a part of them, but maybe forgot just how hard it is to get into them.”
The former Scottish Youths’ champion, who stayed on in the States to pursue his professional career after graduating with a marketing degree from Colorado State University, was still on the Nationwide Tour, the PGA Tour’s feeder circuit, when he made his US Open debut a decade ago. Even by USGA standards, it was a brutal test at Oakmont, where Argentine Angel Cabrera came out on top on five-over.
“I remember being in awe pretty much the whole week of the scale of the tournament,” recalled Laird, who is in the same Hambric Sports Management stable as world No.1 Dustin Johnson, who sets out as the defending champion on Thursday. “I also happened to start my major career at maybe the hardest golf course set up you will ever see, and it was a bit of a shock to the system of just how hard majors, especially the US Open, are. It was a great week, although I missed the cut.
“My game has definitely come a long way since then and I am a lot more complete player. Back then, I was a really good iron player, and that was about it, now I feel like I don’t really have one stand out strength and can compete now no matter what the course or set up is.
“I think I can definitely go there [Erin Hills] and be competitive and get myself into a good position for the final round. My game is in really good shape, but results haven’t been reflective of that the last few weeks. I am hoping shooting the scores on Monday that I did and getting the little boost of qualifying for the US Open will maybe turn things around a bit and I can get myself back in the mix come Sunday.”
Before Knox burst on to the scene with his WGC-HSBC Champions win in 2015, the PGA Tour was Laird’s manor. He recorded three victories on the circuit, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2011, ending that year sitting 47th in the world. Dropping to 248th four years later wasn’t in the Scot’s plan, though, in fairness, that slump coincided with fatherhood. In any case, he’s back up to 115th, having recorded three top-10s this season on the US circuit, where his career earnings are nudging close to $15 million.
“I don’t think it was just a coincidence that my form went down a little bit the last two or three years when we [he met his wife Meagan at Colorado State] had our kids [Jack and Hannah)],” he said. “I took a month completely off from playing right in the middle of the season when both babies were born and then struggled to get my game back in great shape a little bit after that, and with being a lot more sleep deprived than I had ever been.
“I have no regrets at all about those times though and now we have a great routine going with my family travelling with me most weeks and my game is on the up. It is obviously great to be back playing well again and I am excited for the rest of this season. I have no doubt that I have some great years of golf ahead of me. My priorities have obviously changed a little bit having two kids now, but my drive and determination to play great golf is still as strong as ever. I really do feel like my game is more well rounded than it has ever been and I am a lot more consistent due to that. My short game used to be one thing that maybe held me back a little bit and I really have improved that a lot and feel like I am on a good track to get back up the world rankings again.
“I sometimes still can’t believe I have played on Tour for ten years now and doing that without ever losing my full playing status is something I am really proud of. I put in a lot of work to get here and still feel extremely lucky to be able to play on the PGA Tour every week. It was always my dream to play over here on the PGA Tour some day and to still be living it is obviously a lot of fun.”