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Lawrie's Ryder Cup Return

Paul Lawrie has an excellent chance at success

Posted Feb 08, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

paul lawrie

Thirteen years is a long time in the career of a professional sportsman.  And that is the gap which Paul Lawrie looks set to bridge by earning a return to the European Ryder Cup team for the matches against the US at Medinah next September.

If he does it, as seems very likely after his victory in the Qatar Masters last weekend, Lawrie will achieve a rare distinction on this side of the Atlantic.  The only player to have had a longer span between Ryder Cup appearances was Christy O’Connor Jnr, who was given a captain’s pick by Tony Jacklin in 1989, 14 years after making his debut in the 1975 team.  In a way, Lawrie’s feat would be more remarkable than the Irishman’s, given that it is unquestionably more difficult to get into a European team that it was to make the British and Irish line-up, as it was prior to 1979.

According to the distinguished American sportswriter Grantland Rice, "golf is 20 per cent mechanics and technique.”  The other 80 per cent, Rice claimed, is “philosophy, humour, tragedy, romance, melodrama, companionship, camaraderie, cussedness and conversation."  One can imagine Lawrie having experienced all of the above to a greater or lesser degree, during the remarkable slump he had to endure within a few years of capturing the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999.

That event of itself was an extraordinary story, not least because of the 72nd collapse of Jean Van de Velde when he seemed to have the title within his grasp.  And two weeks later, I was to discover another fascinating strand to the Lawrie fairytale when the Scot came to Dublin to compete in the Smurfit European Open at The K Club.  It involved the Dublin clothing firm, Kartel, with which Padraig Harrington has had a contract since the start of his professional career in 1996.  Kartel, incidentally, have just signed a major clothing deal with another Irish player, Graeme McDowell.

But to return to Lawrie: Kartel’s chairman, Alan Swan, was entitled to feel he had achieved something of a coup when he signed an endorsement deal with Lawrie only a week before Carnoustie.  Instantly, the player's commercial value soared as the first Scottish-born golfer in nearly 70 years to capture the Claret Jug, but Swan didn’t have to pay him anything extra for that triumph, because major victories weren’t part of the contract.  And as a further bonus, the Kartel chief actually had Lawrie backed to win, and at decidedly generous odds, needless to remark.

As it happened, Lawrie remained a dominant player in Europe for the next three years, but his game went into serious decline in 2004 when he slumped to 140th in the Order of Merit.  And from the Wales Open of 2002 until victory in the Open de Andalucia last March, his only win of any description was in the Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship of 2005.  

Meanwhile, the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, from a European standpoint.  There was the attempt by captain, Mark James, effectively to win the match in two days, which meant that three recruits, Van de Velde, Jarmo Sandelin and Andrew Coltart, had their first taste of battle in a dramatic singles collapse on the Sunday. One of the very few bright aspects of that episode was the performance of Lawrie.

Showing himself to be every inch an Open champion, he hammered Jeff Maggert by 4 and 3 in the anchor position.  More significant, however, was the fact that he emerged as the only one of the three European winners that day – the other two were Harrington and Colin Montgomerie - to have gone through his match without relinquishing the lead at any stage.  Earlier that weekend, he and Montgomerie had extracted two and a half points from their four pairs matches together. Small wonder that when a concerted effort was made to bring the 2010 staging to his homeland, Lawrie said: “To win the Open in Scotland was a dream come true, but to win the Ryder Cup in Scotland would certainly eclipse that.”

Having celebrated his 43rd birthday on New Year’s Day, Lawrie will be 45 when the Ryder Cup eventually comes to Gleneagles.  On current form, however, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a Ryder Cup return could even become an extended one.

- Dermot Gilleece

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