HE HAS bigger fish to fry these days than playing regularly on the circuit that provided his first professional win in the Moray Seafoods Open at Buckpool. It will be far from a chore for Paul Lawrie, however, to be back on the Tartan Tour for the Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship starting tomorrow.
The Aberdonian may have used that success in the first event he entered as a professional as a springboard to become an Open champion, seven-times European Tour winner and a two-times Ryder Cup player, but he has never forgotten his golfing roots.
Without the opportunities that he was offered in cutting his competitive teeth playing in PGA Scotland events, the former Banchory assistant may never have secured a foothold higher up the ladder in the professional game. He freely admits that and has made a conscious effort over the years to stay as one of the boys on the occasions he plays on the Scottish circuit.
“I played with these guys when I came through,” said Lawrie as he savoured the prospect of locking horns with the likes of Greig Hutcheon, Stephen McAllister, Robert Arnott, Fraser Mann, Andrew Oldcorn, Kenny Hutton and Lee Vannet in a £40,000 event being played over four days on the King’s Course.
“I learned my trade on the Tartan Tour because there were more four-round events when I played. It’s more pro-ams now, which is why I introduced my Invitational event at Deeside. I feel they were good to me when I played, so any time I can I go back.”
The 46-year-old isn’t entirely sure when he last pegged it up in the Tartan Tour’s flagship event. What he does know, however, is that his name is etched twice on the trophy, having first lifted it at Cardross in 1992 then emulating the feat 13 years later at Gleneagles.
“Even though 1992 was my first year on the European Tour, I always planned to play the Scottish – it’s a big event and one I wanted to win,” recalled Lawrie. “I’d got my card, retained it early and won at Cardross. I also won the European Under-25s just after that in France.”
Since playing four weeks in a row at the start of the year, Lawrie has made only one outing on the European Tour, missing the cut in the Volvo China Open in Shanghai just over a week ago. This spin in Perthshire is aimed at getting him firing on all cylinders ahead of the upcoming Spanish Open, BMW PGA Championship and Irish Open.
“I knew I wouldn’t be playing much golf after the Middle East and prior to the Spanish Open. So Michael (MacDougall, his Foundation manager) said the Scottish PGA was Sunday to Wednesday which suits me with a few days before Spain. It’ll be nice. I’m staying down for the week and I’m looking forward to it.”
Lawrie said he was “hacked off” after limping home in 42 to miss the cut in Shanghai. Sitting 127th in this season’s Race to Dubai, he needs to see his fortunes pick up pretty quick to avoid needing one of just two invitations up for grabs in the new Saltire Energy-sponsored event also bearing his name at Murcar Links at the end of July. A third win at Gleneagles – in addition to the aforementioned success in this event, his 2012 Johnnie Walker Championship success on the PGA Centenary Course secured a Ryder Cup return at Medinah after a 13-year absence – would be a nice fillip.
“I think like any athlete – funny calling myself that – every day you have doubts, unless you’re playing nicely all the time and holing all the putts,” he said. “But I still hit balls every day. I still feel I have the game. I’m competitive and I’m longer than ever. It’s not as if I’m losing stuff by getting older. But it’s not been great the last couple of years, we all know that. The results have not been what I wanted. But one week can turn it around and off you go.”
West Linton’s Gareth Wright is the defending champion in a field that has been doubled in size from last year to 132. It includes two women – host club hope Heather MacRae and Nicola Ferguson (American Golf) – and the former in particular will have her sights set on being among the top 50 and ties after 36 holes in order to progress to the final two rounds.