By Aman Misra in Kolkata
1999 was a glorious year for major-championship golf. Jose Maria Olazabal won his second Masters title, and Payne Stewart took the US Open what would be an emotional farewell from the game.
The game then returned to Carnoustie after 24 years for the holding of the Open Championship. It was a memorable one, with Paul Lawrie coming up trumps winning in a playoff an hour away from where the Scotsman grew up.
19 years have passed since, and golf may have gone and reinvented itself in this time for all anyone knows. An ankle injury has prevented the 49-year-old ‘Chippy’ from teeing it up at the site of his greatest win as the Open returns in 2018 to Carnoustie. Still, Lawrie hangs in there.
In an email interview with your correspondent, the European Tour winner and Ryder Cup star speaks about his win at the Open, and his Foundation apart from what anyone teeing it up at Carnoustie this year can expect.
Aman – 2018 marks the end of a 19-year streak of you playing the Open. How do you feel about this?
Paul – The Open, for me, is the most important event in golf and I’m extremely proud to have been the Champion Golfer of the Year. All in all, my Open record is not as good as it might be. I won in 1999 – which has been the single biggest moment in my own career – but aside from this, I’ve only recorded one other top ten (1993) and three or four top 25s. So from that perspective, it’s not.
“The Open, for me, is the most important event in golf and I’m extremely proud to have been the Champion Golfer of the Year. “
Aman – Growing up just an hour away from Carnoustie, did you play the course much?
Paul – We play the course every year (Dunhill Links) and prior to my win I had played Carnoustie a few times – we used to have a PGA event on the Scottish circuit that I’d played in so I was familiar with the course but it wasn’t somewhere I’d played loads.
Aman – Could you speak about some of the changes the course has gone through since you won in 1999?
Paul – I think they’ve moved a few of the teeing grounds a bit – lengthening here and there – but to my knowledge, there haven’t been any dramatic alterations.
Obviously, the way the course was set-up the week of The Open in 1999 was particularly tough and the rough was very thick and fairways narrow but that sort of alteration they can make season-to-season.
“The way the course was set-up the week of The Open in 1999 was particularly tough and the rough was very thick and fairways narrow.”
Aman – In 1999, Phil (Mickelson) missed cut shooting 79-76 and said ‘I don’t think there’s an individual in the R&A who can break 100 (at Carnoustie)’
Do you think that assessment has changed since then going into this year’s Open?
Paul – I think they learned from 1999 – there’s no question it was exceptionally difficult – but in 2007 the set-up was quite different and I think they’d also been a little unlucky with the weather playing its part in shaping the condition back then.
Aman – Some reports from the UK say that this year the course will play as dry as Hoylake did in 2006. What is your assessment of this year’s Championship layout?
Paul – It’s been a really dry spell in Scotland with little or no rain for almost two months – I’m sure the greens keeper has been careful with his use of irrigation systems and watering to keep greens and playing areas as he wants them but, judging by all of the courses here at the moment, it looks as though the layout will play firm & fast.
“Judging by all of the courses here at the moment, it looks as though the layout will play firm & fast.”
Aman – Who do you think will contend in this year’s Open?
Paul – There are so many names you could name – as with almost every Open Championship, the weather will play its part and if we do get some windy conditions then which side of the draw you’re on can have a significant bearing.
Guys like Rory (Mcllroy), DJ (Dustin Johnson), and Jordan (Speith) always seem to raise their games around the big occasions but then you’ve got the likes of Ricky Fowler who seems to enjoy links (he won Scottish Open a couple of years ago on the same links venue as this year’s Scottish Open).
Sergio (Garcia) contended the last time The Open was at Carnoustie, so he’s always a threat and young Europeans like (Tommy) Fleetwood and (Jon) Rahm also will be coming into the Championship with form.
So hard to say. We’ll have to see what the weather’s doing and how the draw comes out.
“Guys like Rory, DJ, and Jordan always seem to raise their games around the big occasion. Sergio is always a threat at Carnoustie. Fleetwood and Rahm come into the Open with form, so hard to say who will contend.
Aman – What is your advice for anyone playing in this year’s Championship?
Paul – Always controlling the flight of your ball in the wind. Key in links golf.
Aman – What were your feelings when you got yourself into the playoff in 1999?
Paul – I’ve always spoken about my then coach (and friend) Adam Hunter’s influence when it looked like we might get into a playoff. He kept me calm and in the right frame of mind and with the presence of mind to realize we had a chance to win golf’s most prestigious prize. I was nervous, of course, but was thinking very well and clearly, probably more so than Jean or Justin.
Aman – Do you remember the moments leading up to the playoff?
Paul – Not really. I remember Adam telling me to look into the eyes of Jean & Justin on the tee of the first playoff hole and to see how nervous and uncomfortable they both were, and that gave me even greater belief.
“I remember Adam telling me to look in to the eyes of Jean & Justin on the tee of the first play-off hole and to see how nervous and uncomfortable they both were, and that gave me even greater belief.”
Aman – When was the last time you spoke to Jean Van de Velde?
Paul – We have a good relationship and see each other from time to time now. He was brilliant following 1999 and has done my Foundation Dinner and also been to my Golf Centre to play exhibition matches since. He handled it so well and has always been completely sporting about it all. We were teammates at the 1999 Ryder Cup together too.
“We (Paul and Jean) have a good relationship and see each other from time to time now. “
Aman – Much less is spoken of Justin Leonard who already had a major under his belt.
Paul – He (Leonard) was chasing a second Major but I could see he was extremely nervous when I shook his hand on the 15th tee.
Aman – For someone who has not experienced the thrill of links golf, what is your advice would you give them before their first round?
Paul – Try to control the flight of your ball as best you can and obviously the terrain means you will probably have to be a little more imaginative with shot making than on an average course where you just take aim at the pin and hit whatever club to a given distance – you’ll play a greater variety of shots on a links and on windy days me be hitting two or three clubs more that might normally be the case for a shot of a similar distance.
“You’ll play a greater variety of shots on a links course and on windy days maybe hitting two or three clubs more that might normally be the case for a shot of a similar distance.”
Aman – Can you speak about how you originally decided to begin your Foundation and giving back to the game?
Paul – It was something I’d wanted to do having received a great deal of support myself from one or two local businessmen during the early days of my own career but The Open win gave me profile enough as well as contacts to make a meaningful difference and give back.
“The Open win gave me profile enough as well as contacts to make a meaningful difference and give back.”
Aman – What advice would you be passing onto Sam during Open week?
Paul – Enjoy it! Try to treat it as you would any other tournament – though that’s easier said than done for even the most seasoned professional…
Aman – You have been part of two memorable Ryder Cup teams, 1999 and 2012. What are your thoughts on this year’s upcoming competition?
Paul – So close to call and both teams are really shaping up well.
Aman – Personally, for you, this must be the longest break you are taking in a few years? How are you spending your time apart from Academy engagements and ankle rehabs?
Paul – Spending time working with my sons, Foundation players and some professionals, who’ve been asking a bit of advice.
We’ve also got some events in the pipeline for 2019
Aman – So many years on tour, you must have a few favorite memories, could you think of any?
Paul – Ryder Cup Medinah 2012 and Carnoustie 1999.
Featured Photo credit: David Cannon/Getty Images