AS THE start of the race for Ryder Cup spots looms large – it gets off the grid in Wales a week today – the posse of Scots bidding to make a dream appearance in the event on home soil have been offered a timely piece of advice.
It was delivered by Paul Lawrie, the title holder in the £1.4 million Johnnie Walker Championship starting today at Gleneagles, as the Aberdonian reflected on a disappointment he suffered before experiencing the high of playing a part in Europe pulling off last year’s “Miracle at Medinah” under the captaincy of Jose Maria Olazabal.
“It’s a hard thing to get right,” confessed Lawrie when asked about how much desire players should be feeling at the outset of the qualifying battle and how that might grow as it gets closer to the cut-off point for the clash here in 13 months’ time.
“I got it wrong a couple of times,” he added. “I was desperate to get on Sam Torrance’s team (at The Belfry in 2002) and tried too hard. I played too much and got it wrong. But I got it right last time, when I wanted to get in Jose’s team because I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and I really want to be part of Paul McGinley’s team here.”
Having slipped to 60th in the world rankings – he left here 12 months ago sitting 30th after celebrating his Ryder Cup return with an impressive four-shot victory – Lawrie’s first task is to get back into the top 50 as quickly as possible.
As low as 255th at the start of 2011, the former Open champion sparked his resurgence by winning the Andalucia Masters in March that year, but he still headed into the 2012 campaign sitting outside the world’s elite.
“I wasn’t in the top 50 until winning in Qatar (in early February),” he recalled. “So as long as you are in the top 50 for the bulk of the tournaments for the start of next year, then you’ve got every chance. If you’re not in the top 50 for the whole of the qualifying campaign, I would probably say it’s impossible to get in.”
Lawrie has recorded only one top-ten finish this season and that came in his first outing – the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban back in January.
While poor putting has been a problem, so, too, has the fact the 44-year-old has been unable to find a driver he feels at ease with, after cracking the one that served him so well last year on the first tee in his match against American Scott Piercy in the WGC Match Play in Arizona in February.
“Last year I became a really good driver of the ball – I think that was the biggest turnaround in my fortunes,” he said. “But I’ve not driven it nearly as well this year and, after cracking my driver, I’ve spent months looking for one that feels comfortable.
“I’ve got ones that have the same loft and same weight, but you get one now and again that feels right. It’s not helped that I’ve swapped drivers a lot this year due to the fact I couldn’t find one that I liked, but I think I’ve now finally got one.”
Lawrie has decided to miss next week’s event at Celtic Manor but is still hopeful he can secure a place in the Seve Trophy in October. With Torrance having been named as the Great Britain & Ireland captain – against a Continental Europe team with Olazabal at the helm – it has offered Lawrie the chance to partially make amends for that Ryder Cup disappointment 11 years ago.
“I’m hoping to be playing in it,” he said of the clash at St Nom La Breteche. “I’m not sure which players ahead of me on the list are going to play but, if a few of them choose not to, I’m probably going to get in the team.
“I texted Sam and said, ‘congratulations, you’ll be a great captain’ and he texted me back, ‘I’m not getting any picks’, which was funny. He’ll do a great job and it will be fantastic (as surely seems to be McGinley’s thinking) to have him in the backroom team and around the Ryder Cup again next year.”
Only time will tell what role Lawrie himself will have when Scotland stages the event for the first time in more than 40 years, but, by the sound of things McGinley is keen for him to be filling one of the 12 playing spots up for grabs.
“This is a course I enjoy and a course I like,” he said when told the European captain had spoken earlier in the week of being a “horses for courses” man. “I spoke to Paul in China earlier in the year, which I’m sure he did with all the players in Medinah, and we chatted for about an hour about bits and pieces.
“He mentioned that he felt we might have waterproofs on a little bit this time next year, and there’s no-one prefers a jacket on more than me. I like playing golf in my jacket and he made that point.”
In the 15th edition of a Diageo-sponsored event on the PGA Centenary Course, Italian Francesco Molinari (42nd) and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen (44th) are the only two players from the world’s top 50 in a field battling it out for a £233,330 top prize.
However, with a record 25 Scots in the line-up – a cocktail of European Tour regulars, Tartan Tour professionals and a couple of amateurs – it contains lots of interest for the home galleries in what will be their last opportunity to get a glimpse of the course set to be in the golfing spotlight in just over a year’s time.
The various changes that have been made to it under the guidance of Jack Nicklaus, the man who designed it, have all bedded in nicely and, both from looking at it and hearing what the players have had to say, Scott Fenwick and his team have it in tip-top condition for this week’s event.