by Jim Black
Twenty years ago if someone had suggested to Paul Lawrie that one day he would have a tournament in his name, Aberdeen’s favourite sporting son would very probably have laughed uproariously.
But it is a measure of the 46-year-old former Open champion’s contribution to Scottish golf that tomorrow at Murcar Links, in his home city, the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play, with prize-money of £715,000, will make its debut on the European Tour.
Lawrie, a modest man who has much to feel proud of, not least his achievement in becoming the first natural-born Scot for 68 years to raise the Claret Jug, following his play-off win at Carnoustie in 1999, has been forced to commandeer one of the two invitations, as his current Race to Dubai ranking of 97th would preclude him from participating in his own event otherwise.
But he makes no apology for the fact after positively bristling with pride when he made his way towards the venue the other day.
“It was nice when I drove in and saw the signs from the main road and the size of it all,” he admitted. “Having a tournament in your own name on the European Tour is pretty cool.
“Along with the EuroPro event we’ve got, the foundation we’ve built and our golf centre, this is just huge… so proud doesn’t cover it.
“We’ve got a stand on the first tee, a hospitality unit on the 15th green/16th tee, a players’ lounge, media centre and sponsors’ pavilion. Man, it looks great.”
For all his success, Lawrie has never forgotten his working-class roots, hence the very reasonably priced admission charges.
“We are charging £5 on Wednesday, £15 a day from Thursday to Sunday, or £35 for the weekly season ticket,” he explained. “It’s unbelievably good value.
“When I spoke with Mike Loggie, chief executive of Saltire Energy, one of his biggest points was that we wanted people to come and enjoy it – and you can’t do that if you are charging a lot. You have to offer value for money.
“It’s not just for the pros in the field, making the ticket prices cheap enough for people to enjoy is a huge part of it for us.”
A total of 64 players will go head to head in a straight knockout format, including Lawrie’s fellow former Open champion John Daly.
Other notable names in t he Murcar line-up include Lawrie’s 2012 Ryder Cup team-mate Nicolas Colsaerts, Chris Wood, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and fellow Aberdonian Richie Ramsay, holder of the Murcar course record.
“I am pleased with the field,” said Lawrie. “John Daly was a good invite because he’s always exciting to watch and hasn’t been to Aberdeen before, I don’t think, so we are looking forward to having him.
“Then there is Marc Warren, Scotland’s highest ranked male professional. There are also five champions from this year, including James Morrison, winner of the Spanish Open, who is 13th in the Race to Dubai, so to have players of that quality, we are over the moon.
“The feedback has been very positive. The players like the match play format. There are enough strokeplay events. These are important, don’t get me wrong, but I think throwing in a matchplay event in the middle of the season is appealing.
“A lot of the boys see it as a bit of fun, because some haven’t played match play since they were amateurs and they are loving the idea that if you don’t play very well at some point you’re going home. You’ve not got another day to recover or 72 holes to repair the damage.”
Lawrie confirmed that a three-year agreement is in place with his sponsor and the European Tour. But while the format is unlikely to alter, he is keen to increase the number of invitations next year.
He said: “We should have maybe held out and negotiated for a bit more. But that discussion is ongoing and four would be a better number for us.
“You can change the field with four people, whereas with two, when one of them leaves, it’s quite difficult. John Daly will change the field hugely, but we could have had two John Dalys, so four will be better.”
While the spotlight is very much on Lawrie as the poster boy of the tournament, the unassuming family man who has remained fiercely loyal to his roots is anxious to apportion praise.
“I have an unbelievable amount of help and have a lot of people who I can count on, like Mike Loggie who sees it the way I do,” he said. “He’s born and bred in Aberdeen and he’s pretty good at backing me, and Martin Gilbert of Aberdeen Asset Management is the same.
“So even though we are doing a lot for Scottish golf, it’s not just me. There are a lot of people behind the scenes who see it the way I see it. We’ve all had good careers and made a good living, and now we want to make sure the kids coming through are getting stuff done for them.
“There are about a dozen of us who are seeing it the same way and there are a lot of things on the go. Having your own event is just another one of those things.
“A huge amount of work has been done by my management company, 4Sports and Entertainment, on my behalf and they are promoting the event for me.
“These guys have worked tirelessly and without them this whole thing would almost be impossible. To be able to hand it over to them and have the confidence in them to do it the way I would like it to be done is great.”
Lawrie, whose career has been resolutely supported by his wife Marian and sons Craig and Michael, has occasionally been misunderstood, perceived by some as dour and lacking charisma. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Football fan Lawrie does not suffer fools gladly, and is prone to speaking his mind, but he is also blessed with a wicked sense of humour and is charming and engrossing company, not least when discussing the fortunes of his beloved Aberdeen FC.
If he still harbours a degree of resentment at his treatment by the media – largely, it must be said, outside his homeland – who absurdly questioned his standing in the game in the wake of his Open triumph, he is entitled to bear a grudge. But, put simply, Paul Lawrie is a man who gives much more than he takes.
A winner of eight European Tour titles – the last of them three years ago in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles – who can ever forget the manner of his 5&3 singles win over Brandt Snedeker that was the catalyst for the Miracle of Medinah?
Lawrie has fallen short of his own demands in the past two seasons, finishing 63rd and 117th in the Race to Dubai, but there are positive signs of a resurgence in his recent results: tied 29th in the BMW International Open, joint 17th in the Scottish Open and equal 40th in the Open after rolling back the years to be a genuine contender at halfway.
“I am hoping some of my best golf might still be ahead of me,” he added. “Meantime, it’s fantastic to be bringing another European Tour event to my home town, after the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.”
*This article was originally published in The Golf Paper on 29 July