The Open: ‘Cool Dude’ Paul Lawrie keeps focus amid mayhem

WATCHING a group of golfers take 29 minutes to play one hole should be akin to the most evil form of waterboarding. Yet Paul Lawrie and his playing partners packed enough entertainment in that time at the sixth yesterday that it would merit a special slot in the event’s official DVD.

Part of the reason they took so long was that they had to wait on the tee. One man who couldn’t wait, however, was Matt Kuchar. Playing in the group behind, he’d putted out at the fifth and made a beeline for the portaloo at the side of the sixth fairway.

Oblivious to the fact Lawrie had just taken his practice swing and was ready to address his tee shot, the American strode out into the middle of the fairway, stopping in his tracks and throwing both his hands up in the air when he eventually realised what he’d done. A gracious apology was accepted by Lawrie after he’d eventually driven.

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It wasn’t his best of the day, finding thick rough on the left, from where the Aberdonian could only hack out. Before he played his third, however, playing partner Davis Love III, the American Ryder Cup captain, produced a contender for the worst-ever shot hit by a professional. Believe me, it was that bad.

From the edge of the rough, the former USPGA captain shanked his second, the ball, fortunately, staying high enough to avoid hitting anyone before landing on the third green as the group including Lee Westwood and Bubba Watson were on it.

The huge throng around it hadn’t a clue where it had come from. Watson will be hoping Love remains as captain rather than a Ryder Cup team-mate after seeing him cut an embarrassed figure as the culprit appeared over the brow of the hill.

Another wait was required before Love could play his next shot, by which time Lawrie had hit his third to about 20 feet, just off the back edge of the green. God knows how he managed to maintain his concentration, but he did. After Love had eventually run up a double-bogey six, Lawrie rolled in his par putt to stay at three-under for his round. It was a pivotal moment as he went on to start the 141st Open Championship with a five-
under-par 67.

“I’m just a cool dude,” said Lawrie with a smile when he was asked afterwards how he’d managed to complete the hole without losing his sanity. “On the tee I had done my practice swing and was going to hit when someone said ‘Kuchar is there’. I looked up and here he was walking across the fairway, obviously oblivious to the fact we’re there. It can happen. I mean, we’re in our own wee world most of the time. But he was quite funny when he put his hands up in the air.”

The situation was also helped by Lawrie’s mood at that juncture in his round. The 1999 Open champion had already chipped in twice – at the third and the fifth – and was delighted to be sharing the lead. “It was probably the strangest start of my career over the first six holes,” he declared. “I didn’t really hit many good shots and I was three-under.”

Both the chips were certainly good shots. Both, in fact, were crackers. At the third, he found a tricky lie at the bottom of the bank at the left of the green. He didn’t have much green to work with but showed a wonderful touch to manouevre it into the hole from about 15 feet away. The one at the fifth was even better from a “shocking lie” on the bank to the right of the green. The ball was also below his feet but in it went, too, from 40 feet across the putting surface.

“Both of them came out perfect,” he mused. “Even though you may be a bit lucky when that happens, both of them were dead pace and fell into the hole. Had the pin not been in they would have still gone in. It’s nice when they come out as soft as that.”

The putts were rolling in as well. Statistically (only strokes on the green are recorded), he only had three putts in the first six holes, nine for the first nine and 23 in total.

The work he’d done on his putting after missing the cut in the Scottish Open instantly paid dividends.

“I putted as poorly as I can remember putting last Friday [at Castle Stuart]. I wanted to put up a reasonable show there but just putted horrific. So I spent many hours on the indoor putting green I’ve got at home. It’s 
perfect to do some work as it’s about 12 on the stimp.”

Lawrie holed one from 30 feet at the 15th for birdie, having also picked up a shot at the previous hole, while his final putt of the day was a two-footer for a birdie at the last, the opportunity having been set up with a majestic 7-iron “with a little draw” from 169 yards.

It was a nice way to end an enjoyable day. Lawrie reckoned it would also have brought a smile to his two sons – 16-year-old Craig and 13-year-old Michael – as they watched at home in Aberdeen. “I heard my name quite a lot today, which was a wee bit surprising down here in England,” he said. “It’s nice everyone is here to support the British players and I hit some nice shots for them, which is good.”

On his two golf-mad sons being absent – wife Marian walked the whole way round as always – he added: “There are quite a few Junior Opens back home this week so both of them wanted to stay and play in them, which is fair enough. They are both decent players and it is all about [reducing their handicaps] by that point one. But I’m sure they’ll have watched it on the telly at Deeside Golf Club.”

If dad makes the Ryder Cup later in the year, they’ll be glued to the box again. A good finish here will secure his place on the European team, bridging a 13-year gap since his one and only appearance in the event so far, and Love is certainly expecting to see the Scot in the opposition camp at Medinah.

“Paul played great – very, very well,” said Love, who finished six shots behind the Scot after a 71. “He only missed two greens with shots that weren’t so bad and he then chipped them in. He was solid all day. It looks like I’ll be seeing him at Ryder Cup, too.

“He’s always been a steady player with a good attitude and someone who grinds it out. Even if he’s not playing well he has a good attitude and sticks with it. When I think of Paul I think of perseverance and he just keeps grinding away at it. He’s having a good year this year and we’ll see him again I’m sure in Chicago.”

Lawrie said the pair had “chatted all day”. It confirmed there is no lingering animosity on the Scot’s part over Love being reported as saying that “Carnoustie had got the champion it deserved” in 1999.