For more than a decade, Paul Lawrie has been the man whom Jean Van de Velde made famous. He was the beneficiary of the greatest final-hole collapse in major-championship history, and when the dust settled and the ripples were flattened in the stream fronting the 18th green at Carnoustie, Paul Lawrie was known as the 1999 “Champion Golfer of the Year.”
But as quickly as his star rose into the sky of golf’s elite, it was extinguished – seemingly forever.
When the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline came to pass as the greatest comeback by either side – a stunning rally from a 10-6 deficit heading into Sunday singles in which the Americans overtook the confident Europeans and won the cup for captain Ben Crenshaw – Lawrie had a feeling that that would be his only shot.
So, 13 years later, when Lawrie put together an incredible reclamation of his career, the golf world hardly took notice, particularly in the U.S.
Lawrie never was a household name here anyway. He was merely the guy who stole the Claret Jug from that affable – but unfortunate – French guy (whose name most can’t remember). Lawrie was nothing more than that.
Even when he won in Europe last year for the first time in more than a decade, he hardly was a factor. When he won twice more this year, it looked as if the renaissance was complete, but no one on this side of the pond was too interested. When he decided to skip the U.S. Open, we picked on him. We even scoffed at the Scot and called him soft.
Then Lawrie qualified for the European Ryder Cup team, and we thought that could only help the U.S. team. We thought it was good that we had 12 guys who could whip him at any given time.
Then lightning struck twice for Lawrie. This time, it struck a little too close to home for the Americans. This time, Lawrie was on the side that took our boys to the woodshed and came back smiling. The unassuming, soft-spoken Scot went out in the middle of the singles matches against our fair-haired FedEx Cup champion, Brandt Snedeker, and whipped him like a rented mule.
U.S. captain Davis Love III had to be counting that point. Heck, European counterpart Jose Maria Olazabal probably had given up on that point. Certainly Sneds had to think that this guy who won’t cross the pond for a chance at immortality isn’t going to put up much of a fight.
The truth is that Lawrie skipped the U.S. Open to stay in Europe because he thought it would improve his chances of making the Ryder Cup team. And the truth is that Lawrie made six birdies in 14 holes to take down Snedeker.
Lawrie may not have been the star of the European team – one may go so far as to say that he will be the first man forgotten when future 19th-hole conversations try to recount the European team that made history near Chicago. But Lawrie seems OK with that.
He never really has sought the spotlight. He spends his time in Aberdeen, Scotland working on his foundation that makes golf available to the Scottish youth. His Paul Lawrie Golf Centre has taught the game to thousands of kids.
Lawrie waited nine years between victories on the European tour. During that span, he tried the U.S. tour for a time, with little success. Lawrie gives credit to his teenage sons for his renewed interest in the game. Both of his boys are accomplished players and have even caddied for their old man on occasion.
Call it a resurgence or a long-awaited redemption. Call it a resurrection or a reclamation.
But whatever you call it, realize that Lawrie is one of the last European stalwarts who lives and plays his golf where he learned the game. It is likely that he will be captain one day and will then get the credit that he deserves.
Only time will tell. But if the last few chapters of his career are anything like those that came before it, they should make for a very interesting ride – even if few are paying attention.