BEFORE jumping on a plane yesterday, Paul Lawrie was out in the back garden of his home in Aberdeen getting in some short-game practice. He’s hoping it will bring some immediate rewards in a run of European Tour events that start tomorrow with the Spanish Open at El Prat on the outskirts of Barcelona. There’s also a longer-term target in his sights.
“I’m trying to keep myself competitive for the seniors,” admitted Lawrie, who, at 46, still has four years to go before joining golf’s golden oldie brigade but has an added incentive for wanting to hit the ground running when that day arrives. As an Open winner, he has a year’s exemption for the Champions Tour and intends to make the most of it in a bid to emulate both Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jimenez in tasting Stateside success in the over-50s game.
“I’m past the stage of taking a wee break and getting back into it. It would have to have been when I was 42-43,” admitted Lawrie. “It’s too late to take time out now, so I’m going to keep playing and try to keep myself competitive so that when I get to 50 I’m ready. I feel with my game, and the distance I hit the ball now, the Seniors’ game could play into my hands a lot. A little bit like Monty did, he kept playing and kept competitive and, as we all know, he won two majors (the US Senior PGA Championship and US Senior Open) last year.”
A brace of titles have also fallen to Jimenez, the pony-tailed Spaniard having won at the first time of asking in the Greater Gwinnet Championship just over a year ago then added the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at the start of this season. Both were landed in fleeting Champions Tour appearances as he has still to get fully started in the Senior ranks
“If I was allowed to have it, I’d have it the way Miguel is – he’s still competitive on all the tours,” said Lawrie. “I have a year exemption for the Champions Tour from my Open win, so my plan is to play there quite a bit but come back and play a few European Seniors and regular events.
“If I’m still in the top 40 in European Tour career money – I’m 26th now and I don’t think I drop out of the top 40 before I turn 50 – I can still play the events I play now. But I’ll need to stay competitive, keep my schedule up. I still feel I can get back to top 50 in the world and if I do that, it’s not an issue.”
It was a visit to Spain around the same time of the season in 2011 that sparked Lawrie’s last revival, bridging a nine-year gap by returning to the winners’ circle in the Andalucian Open and going on to taste two more victories – in the Qatar Masters and the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles – before helping Europe pull off their “Miracle at Medinah” in the 2012 Ryder Cup. He has since slipped to 347th in the world but believes a number of upcoming events, including the new Match Play tournament on the European Tour bearing his name at Murcar Links, provide a good opportunity to make serious inroads into that.
“There’s a lot of events left this season that I’m looking forward to – a lot of venues that should suit me,” he admitted. “For instance, I won the Dunhill Links at St Andrews (venue for this year’s Open Championship). I’ve never played Royal County Down (where the Irish Open is being held the week after next), but I hear it’s phenomenal. Murcar, for my own event should suit me as I’ve played it a lot and I really liked the look of Gullane (host for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open) when my son Michael had a game there during the Scottish Boys at Dunbar. It’s going to be a great venue as it’s a great layout with lots of good holes.”
Justin Rose, of course, will be the defending champion in East Lothian and the Englishman’s recent feat in winning on the PGA Tour for the sixth season in a row earned admiration from one of his 2012 Ryder Cup team-mates.
“To achieve that, Justin is not a boot in the arse from being one of the best players in the world,” observed Lawrie. “I’m not telling him what to do, but if he putted a little better he’d easily be the best player in the world. He’s got the talent and certainly has the work ethic.”