If Paul Lawrie has had sleepless nights worrying about the possibility that his name would simply become one of the one-time-wonders inscribed on the Claret Jug, he can now sleep the sleep of the just. He has established himself as one of the all-time greats of links golf.
In winning the Dunhill Links Championship he, if anything, surpassed his Open triumph at Carnoustie. Not only did he have to play three great links courses in as many days; he also had to play them in weather conditions that one would not walk the dog in. Indeed, he has probably survived the greatest test of stamina and concentration that he will be subjected to in his lifetime in the game.
History may well reflect that Paul Lawrie did not win the Open at Carnoustie but rather that Jean van de Velde threw it away. So be it. But Paul Lawrie won the Dunhill fair and square with a stunning display, which shows that his game stands comparison with the very best.
It would certainly be a travesty if it should be said that he won from a poor field. The big American names may well have been distinguished by their absence but big Ernie Els put him to the test severely enough and his 18 under par total for two rounds on the Old with one each on Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, is testimony enough - to say nothing of the fog and rain that wreaked havoc with the continuity of play.
If the three different venues were not testing enough in atrocious weather conditions, then the presence of amateurs in the field can only underline the character required to win this event. Lawrie was clearly at ease with his Aberdonian playing partner but the same could not be said for Paul McGinley. Both McGinley and Lawrie started off in the final round on the Old a day late, thanks to the weather, at 16 under par with a cluster of likely challengers chasing them. The young guns Howell and Casey, with the more awesome Els and Montgomerie, were there and likely to make an impression. Head to head with any of these threats would have been hard enough but stuck among them was Kyle Maclachlan, who is apparently an American celebrity. His presence was about as pertinent to play as ketchup is to curry. He was there as McGinley's partner in some incomprehensible pro-am competition played in parallel to the main event. McGinley was clearly affected by his partner's hackings and drifted out of contention like the fog that had drifted in and out from the sea all week. That Lawrie survived Maclachlan and the rubbernecks in the gallery that accompanied him is remarkable. Ernie Els had no such distraction. He was playing with his father, who he probably knew.
The event itself came under some scathing criticism from the press. Most scribes took the view that it was a non-event because of the absence of big name Americans. It is perhaps noteworthy that the same scribes were early in dismissing the World Matchplay at Wentworth for the same reason. Few were short of praise for Woosnam and Harrington after the event and even fewer failed to acknowledge it as a stupendous success. Should anyone be short on praise for Lawrie's achievement they can surely be dismissed as simply churlish or over imbibed. Criticising the weather is bordering on blasphemy and nothing other than praise can be heaped upon the three great links venues.
It speaks volumes for Kingsbarns that it should be included with Carnoustie and the Old Course in the first instance. That it was praised to the heavens by seasoned pros and amateurs alike places it, as yet in its infancy, in the top bracket of links courses and more than justifies its place in the world's top-50 golfing venues. Certainly its setting is incomparable and its test as a golfing ground has now been seen to be as good as any. With two par fives, the 3rd and 9th playing down wind and the long 12th along the beach into the wind, abbreviated on both tee and green, it has yet to show its full set of teeth.
I would dearly like to see this course tested at its full strength and with a full field in this event. Hopefully next year will bring clement weather and the best in America.
I hope too that some arrangement can be made to keep the amateurs out of the field in the last days play. I have to confess that it is delightful to watch great athletes from other sports take club to ball. Indeed, it is somehow reassuring to see the likes of Beefy Botham hit it past the pros on one hole and top it off the tee on the next: or Kenny Dalgliesh who, in his day could thread a football into a goal through the eye of a needle, miss a 10 inch putt. It is simply reassuring for mere golfing mortals to see such things while it is, at the same time, confirming of the excellence of a champion like Paul Lawrie.
|| 23 - OCTOBER 2001