He’s the oldest player in the field at 51 and embarked on his 29th season on the European Tour in Mauritius last month. But Paul Lawrie is feeling revitalised as he heads into the Abu Dhabi Championship and reckons he can still mix it with the youngsters.
For the first time since 2013, the Aberdonian is starting a new year feeling pain-free, having finally shaken off his troublesome foot injury. There’s a spring back in his step again, in fact, after seeing that coincide with a return to form in the second half of last year.
Lawrie landed his maiden win on the Staysure Tour with a satisfying success in the Scottish Seniors Open at Craigielaw and was crowned as Rookie of the Year on the over-50s circuit as he ended up 11th on the money-list.
That will be his main focus again this year, but he’s getting the new decade underway with back-to-back European Tour appearances, having also secured a spot in the field for next week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic as a top 40 career-money earner.
“Last year, I was fit enough to play but not fit enough to compete. This year is different and I’m looking forward to being in contention as much on the main tour as the Staysure Tour,” the eight-time European Tour winner and two-time Ryder Cup player told The Scotsman on the practice range at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“My foot has been brilliant, though it took me until the Senior Open at Lytham last year before I really felt as though I could hit shots and play the way I wanted to play. All the chances I got on the Champions Tour were early on when I was still unfit. From the end of July, I was there or thereabouts in nearly every event I played. I had a couple of chances to win and took one of them in the Scottish Seniors, which was nice. I’m not looking too far ahead, but I think this is going to be a nice year.
“I’d been struggling with my foot since a few weeks before the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. That was the first time I felt it and it really started bugging me at the start of 2013, when I had a terrible year. Ever since then I had really struggled with it and I should have done something about it earlier.
“I said on more than one occasion, ‘right, I am going to get it done’ but, for some reason, I just couldn’t push the button. It is easy looking back, but I should have gone in earlier to see my surgeon, Professor Gordon McKay, at Ross Hall.
Lawrie, who has played fleetingly on the European Tour over the past two seasons, also plans to tee up in both the Oman Open at the end of next month and Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at the beginning of March, before turning his attention to the seniors’ scene, with four Champions Tour appearances, three majors and a return to the Insperity Invitational in Texas, on his schedule.
“The way I see it, at the moment making the cut and playing four rounds is a decent week for me out here as these guys are all younger, fitter and stronger,” he added. “If I play okay in these events, I could get myself in contention, but the expectation levels are lower in these tournaments than senior events, which is understandable as it’s a better calibre of players and the courses are longer.”
One thing for sure is that his hunger has not diminished. “Jesus, more than ever,” he said of that. “We had a game the other day on the Old Course. Myself, Mikey McDougall (who works for Lawrie), Michael Stewart (the former Scottish Amateur champion) and Steven Boyle, who sponsors a few guys for us and used to get coached by Adam Hunter and knew him really well.
“I was winding him up a bit, but he said straight away, ‘I can’t believe how competitive you are. You’re 51 but still so competitive’. I said I’d never lose that. I still want to win bounce games as I don’t like losing. That’s just how it is. People sometimes think, ‘oh man, that’s wrong’ but I don’t see it that way. If you’re competitive, that’s how you are and there’s no reason why it should change. He got a complete shock. He thought it would be a wee friendly game, but it was completely opposite (laughing).”
Following Bob MacIntyre’s withdrawal due to his niggling hand injury, Lawrie is among nine Scots in the field for this week’s Rolex Series, joining Stephen Gallacher, David Law, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson, David Drysdale, Grant Forrest and Calum Hill in the line-up at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Shane Lowry, the Open champion, defends the title in a field that also includes world No 1 Brooks Koepka, two-time winner Tommy Fleetwood and record Ryder Cup points-scorer Sergio Garcia, who is starting his season with a new set of clubs in the bag after switching from Callaway to Ping.