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The Open at St Andrews: No fuss, just making more memories as Paul Lawrie ponders whether the 150th could be his last Open

One of Paul Lawrie's favourite memories is playing with Arnold Palmer, Darren Clarke and Bill Rogers at the Old Course in 2015.
One of Paul Lawrie's favourite memories is playing with Arnold Palmer, Darren Clarke and Bill Rogers at the Old Course in 2015.

The 150th Open might be Paul Lawrie’s last, but he’s not planning any farewells on the Old Course next week.

Typically of the man, he just doesn’t want the fuss.

“I’m not sure,” he said when asked if St Andrews might be his final championship.

“I don’t want to say it’s my last one as people make a bit of a fuss, really.”

How much does he like to avoid that? When Lawrie stood down competitively from the European Tour in 2020, it was at the Scottish Open at the Renaissance – the Covid version, when there were no spectators.

He had to be cajoled by DP World Tour players’ liaison David Park to even admit he was retiring. Even the coterie of friends, fellow players, officials and media who clapped him on to the 18th green was too much attention for Paul.

‘I’ll just wait and see going forward’

His epic victory in 1999 at Carnoustie means he is exempt for the Open until he’s 60, in 2029. But after missing the 2018 championship at the site of his win through injury, Lawrie didn’t enter Sandwich last year.

“I’m never going to be someone who is allowed to play just because he’s exempt if I can’t compete,” he continued. “So I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the last one.

“I probably wouldn’t have played this year if it hadn’t been St Andrews or Carnoustie. I’ll just wait and see how I feel going forward.

“I’ve not been a good enough player to stand on the Swilcan Bridge and wave goodbye, like a few of them have rightly done like (Jack) Nicklaus and (Tom) Watson. I’m never going to do that.

“At the moment I am planning on playing more than this one, but we’ll see.”

Perhaps his Legends Tour win last month – a week on from losing a play-off – and a good week at St Andrews might convince him to push on. But, in the meantime, he has a host of treasured memories of the championship, particularly on the Old Course.

Playing with ‘Mr Palmer’

“The Champions’ Dinner (only ever held at St Andrews) is always cool,” he said. “The Champions Challenge, last time we had it, was brilliant.

“I played with Arnold Palmer, Darren (Clarke) and Bill Rogers. I am obviously pretty pally with Darren, Bill is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever play with, and it was Mr Palmer, what can you say? 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. Mr Palmer looked up at the leaderboard and said: ‘does that say (Gary) Player up there at the top?’ and I said: ‘yeah’.

“He then asked: ‘are we the same score as him’ and I said: ‘yeah’ again. So he said: ‘you’ve got this to beat him?’ and I said: ‘yeah’. He said: ‘well, you better f***ing knock this in, boy!’

“Luckily, I did and you just need to look at the pictures of how happy he was when I did hole the putt.

“We all know these boys were mates, but first and foremost, they were competitors. Mr Palmer 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.”

‘My favourite dinner, ever’

The Open champions pose before their dinner in 2000 at St Andrews.

Lawrie was effectively “host” of his first Champions Dinner in 2000 as defending champion.

“It was only three people from the R&A and 30 of us,” he said. “ I had Lee Trevino on one side and Gary Player on the other. 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, that first year is the favourite dinner I’ve had, ever. Nothing gets better than that.

“What they do at the end is that the secretary stands up and there’s a theme and you can tell a story, but you don’t have to.

“The theme that year was 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’.

“I understand that American players want to win the US Open and the Masters, but for a British player the Open is the biggest event in the world, there’s no question about that.

“So to have your name on (the Claret Jug) is just spooky. I can’t think of a better word because it’s just frightening that my name is on there.”

The last Open walk with Adam

Paul Lawrie hit the first ball of the 2010 championship at St Andrews.

In 2010, the championship was even more poignant for Lawrie. Asked to be an honorary starter, hitting in the first group on Thursday morning, he was followed around by his beloved coach Adam Hunter, who was ailing with leukemia and would succumb to it a year later.

“Adam was really struggling, but he wanted to walk with us,” said Lawrie. “In fact, the week after that or two weeks after, he went back into hospital. But you never forget stuff like that.

“The job he did for me was out of this world. I met two or three people every tournament who say: ‘Adam Hunter used to coach me’ – and not one person has ever had a bad word to say about him.

“It was cool to hit the opening shot that year. It was Peter Dawson who was in charge at the time and he said to me: ‘are you okay with that?’ and I said: ‘absolutely’. Why would you not want to be first off when it’s flat calm and the greens are perfect?”

Back to 1999

Lawrie was in Saturday’s penultimate group in 2015 before the wind and weather delays blunted his challenge. But 1999 remains the obvious career highlight – even though he rarely watches it.

“When it comes on TV, even to this day, the number of people who get in touch with me to let me know is amazing,” he said.

“I used to get the tape out when I was struggling with stuff swing-wise. Adam was big on that because that week was probably where he wanted me to swing it.

“It’s all on Youtube now? Really? I’ll maybe sit down with a pack of Chippy Beer and watch myself win The Open (laughing).

“Seriously, though, it’s all great memories and you can never take any of them away.”

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