Over the years, Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course was the scene of so many somber, cap-waving farewells to the Open Championship that the sheer volume of schmaltzy, nostalgic tears streaming down the bridge nearly caused the brickwork to dampen.
Paul Lawrie is not ready for the championship swan song he won in 1999, but the day is approaching fast. The Aberdonian has earned the right to play in golf’s oldest major as a former champion until he turns 60, but Lawrie, who turns 52 on New Year’s Day, certainly doesn’t want to become a minor leaguer ceremonial.
Yesterday, he confirmed that he will not compete at the St. George’s Open next year, but he is likely to return in 2022 when the championship comes to St. Andrews for its 150th placement.
“Playing the Open at St. Andrews won’t be to say cheerio, but just because it’s St. Andrews,” he said of the game’s alluring cradle. “Maybe I’ll play in the years after, you never know. But I don’t think I was a good enough player to stand on Swilcan Bridge and wave goodbye and get a salute. That was for people like Watson, Nicklaus, Faldo or Seve, not me.”
Lawrie remains a true Scottish great, despite his modesty, and a golfer appreciated by many for his professional accomplishments and his far-reaching efforts to promote the game in his home country. After 620 European Tour tournaments, including eight victories and two Ryder Cup appearances, Lawrie retired after the Scottish Open in October from the main circuit competition.
“It’s funny, you play 620 tournaments and only win eight of them, so there’s a lot of disappointment in there,” he said with a thoughtful laugh. “I don’t really feel like I could have won much more. Up until winning the Open, I probably overachieved because I didn’t think I was good enough to get on the Tour, let alone win. And after that? Well, if you’re in a position to win an Open, then winning only four or five more titles from 1999 until you retire is probably underachieving. But it’s certainly not disappointing.”
Of course, Lawrie’s coach and great friend, Adam Hunter, were the key to those early achievements. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of his premature death and he will always be remembered by Lawrie. “I went through a phase where I tinkered with my swing a lot,” he said. It was always assumed by people that it was Adam who did that. But that was all of me. To try to improve my technique, I was the one tinkering. “People always assumed it was Adam who did that. But that was all me. I was the one tinkering to try to improve my technique. ” It was, after all, sufficient to win an Open. He told me to concentrate on the rhythm, the short game, and when I wasn’t playing, to rest. But that I couldn’t do.
It took me a long, long time to figure out that he was absolutely right. It’s what makes better players to rest in tournaments, not bashing your brains on the range and trying to get your right elbow on the backswing a half-inch lower. I couldn’t figure that out. I just assumed that to be a better player I had to get better technically. I didn’t figure that out until I played better again in 201
“During that time, I never worked on the technique and had a real purple patch. Eventually, I figured out my swing was my swing. Adam had been a long way ahead of his time.
Lawrie will keep the competitive fire burning with a plethora of events to look forward to next year on both sides of the Atlantic in the 50-plus age group. In addition to that, his foundation’s tireless work, his management company’s duties and the running of his own domestic tour, and in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Lawrie plays more roles than Alec Guinness.
His Tartan Pro Tour, launched this year to provide opportunities for playing on a coronavirus-plagued schedule, will grow from six events in 2020 to next year, hopefully 12. The ultimate goal is to have a Scottish feeder circuit that provides a direct path to the top of the pro ladder.
“He said, “The dream for 2022 is to have sufficient events and sufficient prize money that we can get three or four players to qualify for the Challenge Tour.”