“David Park (a former tour pro who now works for the DP World Tour) suggested that I should let people know,” said Lawrie of the cat coming out of the bag during the 2020 Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club about that being his last hurrah on the main circuit, “but I didn’t want to.”
Due to Covid restrictions in place at the time, no fans were there that day on the East Lothian coast to give Lawrie the send off he’d have been given under normal circumstances.
He didn’t mind that and, though aware that the thousands of Scottish spectators heading to the 150th Open at St Andrews next week might want to make up for that missed opportunity, the 1999 winner is keeping his cards close to his chest about whether or not the 150th edition will be his last appearance in the event.
“I’m not sure,” he declared. “I don’t want to say it’s my last one and people make a bit of a fuss because I don’t think I’ve been a good enough player to stand on the Swilcan Bridge and wave goodbye like a few of them have rightly donate like [Jack] Nicklaus and [Tom] Watson. I’m not going to do that. So I am planning on playing more than this one, but we’ll see.”
The 53-year-old made his debut in the Claret Jug event in 1992, finished in the top 10 the following year before becoming the first Scottish-born player to triumph on home soil since Tommy Armor in 1931 as he pulled off a history- making victory at Carnoustie.
“I went to The Open a few times as a kid with my father and my brother,” he said, recalling his first memories of the game’s oldest major. “We were at Birkdale in 1983 when Watson won and we used to always go to the practice rounds then come home, as a lot of people did back then. We always watched it on the telly.
“If there’s a British golfer who doesn’t want to win The Open, then there’s something wrong with you. I understand that American players want to win the US Open and The Masters, but, for a British player it’s the biggest event in the world, there’s no question about that.
“So, for your name to be on it is just spooky, there’s no question. I can’t think of a better word because it’s just frightening that your name is on there.”
Does he still sometimes watch the 1999 event, which saw him come from ten shots back on the final day before winning a four-hole play-off? “Only when it comes on,” he insisted. “Even to this day, if there’s something on about it, the number of people who get in touch with me to let me know is amazing.
“I used to get the tape out quite a lot and put it one when I was struggling with stuff swing-wise and Adam (Hunter, his coach who passed away in 2011) was big on that because that week was probably where he wanted me to swing it, so he used to get me to watch certain shots.”
All those shots are now on Youtube. “Really?” said Lawrie to that before, accompanied by a loud laugh, adding: “I’ll maybe sit down with a pack of Chippie Beer and watch myself win The Open! Seriously, though, It’s a great memory and you can never take that away.”
As was playing in a Champions’ Challenge – the four-hole event is being held right at the start of the week on this occasion – with Arnold Palmer and sitting between Gary Player and Lee Trevino at his first Champions’ Dinner, an event that is only held when The Open is played at St Andrews.
“That will be cool,” said Lawrie, a recent winner on the European Legends Tour in Cornwall, of the Champions’ Challenge. “The last time we had it was brilliant as I played with Darren Clarke and Arnold Palmer and Bill Rogers. As great as it was to play with Mr Palmer, I am obviously pretty pally with Darren and Bill Rogers is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever play with, so we just had a whale of a time and we ended up doing well.
“I was on the last green and I had about a 12-footer downhill left-to-right and Mr Palmer looked up at the leaderboard and said, ‘does that say Player up there at the top?’ and I said ‘yeah’. To which he asked ‘are we the same score as him?’ and I said ‘yeah’ again and he said ‘you’ve got this to beat him’ and I said ‘yeah’. He said, ‘well, you better f****** knock this in, boy!’ (laughing). That’s what he said to me and, luckily, I did and you just need to look at the pictures of how happy he was when I did hole it.
“I get it that these boys were mates, but that showed that, first and foremost, they were competitors. He only hit four or five shots over the four holes and was in a buggy but, man, just to play with him was great fun. I really enjoyed it.”
And that Champions Dinner in 2000? “I had Lee Trevino on one side and Gary Player on the other and all through the dinner I either turned this way or that as the pair of them never stopped talking. Imagine sitting in between those two. Honestly, it is such a cool dinner. It is hard to describe and that first year is my favorite dinner ever. Nothing gets better than that.
“At the end of the dinner, there’s a theme and you can tell a story but you don’t have to. The theme the first year was about a first visit to The Open and, honestly, it was just amazing as Mr Nicklaus and Mr Watson got up and told their stories. Maybe 10 or 12 got up and you are sitting there thinking ‘this is just scary stuff’.”
Scary scoring is being predicted at St Andrews as the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and other big-hitters tackle the Old Course, where Lawrie won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2001, for the first time in the milestone event.
“No,” he replied to being asked if he was worried about the course being brought to his knees. “It is what it is. If it’s flat calm, any links course is at the mercy of these boys due to how good they are and how far they hit it. And I understand the chat about how far they hit it at the minute.
“But you’ve still got to remember that they are world class these players; it’s not just the distance they hit it. It’s how good they are, too. So, if you get any links course when it’s flat calm, 60 is always going to be the number that people are looking at because every hole is a wedge for these boys or less.
“They are talking about Bryson DeChambeau maybe driving seven par 4s. When you are talking about, that’s silly but, unfortunately, that’s where the game of golf is at the minute. They were driving par 5s at Bay Hill. I’m not worried about it but, at the same time, you don’t want to see it being murdered. It will be if it’s flat calm, no question.”
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