Paul Lawrie: I wonder if Medinah was final peak
SITTING in a small office just off the well-stocked shop that greets visitors to the golf centre bearing his name, the 276th-best golfer on planet earth was in philosophical mood. Which is understandable. Only two years on from his stellar performance at Medinah in the 2012 Ryder Cup and at the end of an injury-interrupted season on the European Tour – he completed only 16 events – Paul Lawrie has much to ponder. Amazingly, the 1999 Open champion will compete on his home circuit next season courtesy only of his 26th place on the all-time career money-list.
“It seems like ever since the Sunday of Medinah I’ve been on a bit of a downward spiral,” admits Lawrie, who will turn 46 on New Year’s Day. “I had a decent finish early in 2013, but ever since then it feels like everything has been slipping, slipping, slipping. I feel as though I’ve played some decent golf in that time and I’ve hit some lovely putts, but I just can’t get the ball in the hole.
“Every day I wonder if Medinah was my last ever peak. Was that as good as I can be? I’d like to think it wasn’t. But I have to be realistic. There is a distinct possibility that it could well be. And if that proves to be the case, I haven’t got a problem.”
Such a level of honesty and openness is rare, especially amongst golf’s upper echelons. Weaned on the need to be eternally optimistic – at least in public – realism is not a characteristic one can ascribe to many leading professionals. But Lawrie has always been a bit different.
Indeed, a consistent criticism levelled at the proud Aberdonian is his commitment to the now long-established and highly successful junior foundation. Both his late coach, Adam Hunter, and another now sadly departed, the legendary Bob Torrance, took the view that Lawrie would, at least until his playing career was winding down, be better employed on the range than, say, posing for pictures with smiling youngsters.
“I’ve tried to attend fewer foundation events,” he shrugs. “But I feel bad when I do that, or don’t do that. It’s hard not to go. I take the point though. There has been a lot more of everything since Medinah. The trouble is, I really enjoy the other stuff. I want to be fully involved in the foundation because my name is attached to it. I have the golf centre now too. I feel as if I don’t see things and speak to the staff about them then nothing will be exactly as I want them. I like things done the right way.
“Plus, I don’t want to start not turning up at foundation events. I have a responsibility there. I started it because I wanted the kids to see that I wanted to help them. So concentrating 100 per cent on my golf – which is what I should be doing – is difficult. I enjoy all the other stuff too, company days and spending time with my sponsors. But, yes, I know I should be hitting balls or working in the gym.”
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Still, for all his obvious – and commendable – commitment to what has been a huge success in his native north-east, Lawrie is well aware of one immutable fact of golf at the top level. In just a couple of months he will be entering what is traditionally something of a black hole in the professional game. Although there have been notable exceptions such as Miguel Angel Jimenez, Vijay Singh and Ray Floyd, the period between the ages of 46 and 50 are not normally the most productive in any golfer’s career: too old to be competitive on the regular circuit and too young for the 50-and-over Champions Tour.
It is a trend Lawrie is hoping to buck, however. He has plans, two specifically.
“The aim is to get back into the world’s top 50, then play in the European Ryder Cup team of 2016,” he says simply. “Realistically, I think I have one more go in me before I become a senior, because it will take at least a year to get going. And yes, I know that I am entering what is a tough period for most golfers. I’m going to fight all the way though. I’m in the gym at 5:20 every morning for 90 minutes. I hit balls every day. So I’m going to put in the time and effort required. Some days I feel as if I can get back. On others I don’t. And I must admit to having more of the ‘don’t days’ now.
“It’s not a desire thing though. I want this more than I have ever done. I don’t want my career to end playing like I am now. I want to get better and win a tournament or two. And I want to be back in the Ryder Cup team. Which is not to say I don’t struggle mentally, knowing all that has to be done to get to where I want to be. It takes a huge effort to make the side now. And no, I’m not sure if I have what it takes to do it again. But we’ll find out in the next six months or so.”
The first thing Lawrie will have to do, of course, is play better. This past season has not been pretty. But a close study of his statistics has provided some slightly unexpected encouragement.
“My ‘greens in regulation’ stat was impressive enough this year,” he says. “I find a lot of greens and am actually 21st on tour in that category. And I hit a lot of approach shots inside 20 feet. But I haven’t made enough putts. That has been the big problem this year. I’m miles down the rankings in that category [165th in ‘putts per round’, to be exact]. You can’t be competitive putting as I have been. But my stats are actually better than I thought they would be. Up to six feet I hardly ever miss. Then from six to 20 feet I’m not as good, but far from poor. But from outside 20 feet I hardly make any putts.
“So it’s been frustrating. Especially as I feel my best form is close. I don’t feel like I’ve been playing crap. A big thing for me is resting at tournaments. This year I’ve tended to hit too many balls when I’ve been away. I never did that in 2012. But I still feel competitive. I’m still long enough off the tee. I still want to play. And I still enjoy it.”
And so, in a month or so, another season – his 24th on the European Tour – beckons. It is one about which Lawrie has mixed feelings.
“I’m gutted that I have to use my top-40 career money exemption next year,” he admits. “I’m not happy about that at all. In fact, I hate using it. It is an indication of how poorly I have been playing. I wish I were turning 50 tomorrow. I wish I could play seniors golf right now. Three rounds. No cut. Bit of fun. I know that isn’t ideal, but I’m already looking forward to that.”
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