Ryder Cup: Beware the Hazeltine cauldron, warns Paul Lawrie

Having hit the opening shot at Brookline on his debut in 1999 before returning to the event 13 years later to claim a notable singles scalp in helping pull '¨off the '˜Miracle at Medinah', Paul Lawrie is well-equipped to be part of a Ryder Cup backroom team for a match in the '¨United States.
Paul Lawrie likened the Ryder Cup away from home to a football crowd. Picture: GettyPaul Lawrie likened the Ryder Cup away from home to a football crowd. Picture: Getty
Paul Lawrie likened the Ryder Cup away from home to a football crowd. Picture: Getty

“The only Ryder Cup I know as a player, having made my two appearances away from home, is the one these boys are going to face, and I think that was one of the reasons that Darren [Clarke] asked me to 
be a vice-captain,” said 
the Aberdonian of a role he is filling for the first time at Hazeltine this week.

It is different – much different – to when he was put on the spot by Colin Montgomerie on the first tee in Massachusetts 17 years ago or found himself going head-to-head with Brandt Snedeker, the newly-crowned FedEx Cup winner at the time, on the last day on the outskirts of Chicago in 2012. He’s relishing the task with equal vigour, though, and aims to draw on both those past experiences to help Clarke in his bid to try and steer Europe to an unprecedented fourth win in a row.

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“The feeling of excitement going into this Ryder Cup is totally different to my playing appearances,” added the Aberdonian as he arrived in Minnesota along with compatriot Sam Torrance, the 2002 winning captain who has also been enlisted by Clarke this week after being one of Paul McGinley’s right-hand men, too, at Gleneagles two years ago.

“Going into the Ryder Cup as a player, there’s a bit of pressure on you knowing that you are going to have to step up to the plate and perform. As a vice-captain, it is taken out of your hands, to be honest. There is very 
little you can do. All you can 
do is chat to the players and help prepare them the best you can by passing on your experience.

“Obviously there are players on the team [Lee Westwood is making his tenth successive appearance] who have way more experience than me when it comes to the Ryder Cup, but there are also a lot of young players and rookies who the vice-captains can help.”

It’s unlikely that one of those six newcomers will find themselves in the position Lawrie did on the first morning on his debut, but, no matter when they are blooded by captain Clarke, pictured inset, the Scot says it will be a cauldron they’ve never experienced before and will be telling them there is only one way to silence a 
partisan home crowd.

“The hardest thing I found first time was how against you they are and you have to try and cope and deal with that,” said the 47-year-old. “A Ryder Cup away from home is more of a football crowd-type of atmosphere. There’s a lot of noise and a lot of goings on. I was at Gleneagles as a spectator for half a day two years ago and it was obviously loud and noisy. But I definitely think playing away from home is that much harder.

“There were incidents in both the matches I played in that were over the top and the only way to deal with it is by making birdies [as Lawrie certainly did as he produced some of the best golf on a dramatic last day at Medinah to beat Snedeker 5&3 as Europe came from four points behind to win 14.5-13.5].

“That’s the only way you can quieten them. So the younger guys I’ve spoken to, all I’ve tried to pass on is that. But you’ve got to enjoy it. You can’t go out there feeling pressure or feeling tight. You’ve got to love it as you will not have a better experience in your life than the Ryder Cup.”

That was certainly the case for those on the winning team four years ago, when Europe looked dead and buried until Ian Poulter birdied the last five holes on the Saturday afternoon to give the visitors some much-needed momentum heading into the singles. The rest, as they say, is history.

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“It was the shortest team meeting of the week on the Saturday night,” recalled Lawrie of the speech delivered by Jose Maria Olazabal at an event where Europe used Seve Ballesteros as their inspiration following his death the previous year. “Having seen the line-up for the next day, every single player left that meeting believing that we could turn it round on the Sunday.

“When it unfolded the way it did, it was still a monumental and unbelievable achievement. But, after Poulter and Rory [McIlroy] had won the last game on the Saturday night to get us back within four points, the whole team room changed and I assume the talk Jose Maria gave changed, too, because if we’d lost those two games to go 12-4 down, there’s no way in the world we could come back.

“I went to bed on the Saturday night believing I could win my match. I’d played well all week and putted poorly. But I found something on the putting green on the Saturday night. Darren Clarke [a vice-captain on that occasion] gave me bit of a lesson and I putted for about 40 minutes and knew I was going to play well on the Sunday.

“If I was thinking that, then a lot of the other players must have as well. I’ve always said in Q&As and clinics that when you have that many players coming towards you playing well, that is pretty hard to stop. I was six-under and other guys were three, four or five-under. It was unbelievable golf and you are going to close a gap, even a four-point one, pretty quick in those circumstances. To be part of it was just incredible, frightening in fact.”

He’d have preferred to be in the heat of the battle again this week, but, at the same time, Lawrie is happy to have been handed a role for the 41st transatlantic tussle.

“It is obviously completely different,” he said. “As a player, you know very little of what is going on behind the scenes and you don’t really want to know the arrangements or what the vice-captains are talking about. As a player, all you want to know is what time you have to be there, knowing that everyone else has taken care of all the arrangements for the week.

“When you are involved in the backroom team, especially on the management side, there’s a lot of stuff to do. It’s amazing. Darren is in charge and has the final say, but he runs things past the vice-captains more than I thought.

“We’re all on a WhatsApp group and every day there are messages up on that. There’s great banter among all the vice-captains. Sam is really
good, as is Padraig [Harrington], while Clarkey is a bit of a wind-up merchant. It’s brilliant fun. It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be but that’s not a moan as I am really enjoying it. Having not done it before, I wasn’t sure what the role entailed, but you are involved in it a lot more than I thought.”