Lawrie on 1999 Open Playoff: “I was nervous, but was thinking clearly, probably more so than Jean or Justin”

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.

L-R: Rory Mcllroy at Hoylake 2014, Jordan Spieth at Birkdale 2017, Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie 2007 Photo Credits: Multiple Sources

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).

Top – Darren Clarke held off Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson in 2011 at St George’s
Bottom – Europe’s Future? Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood pose with their Race to Dubai trophies.
Photo Credits: Getty Images

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? 

Lawrie with his late friend and coach Adam Hunter  Photo credits – Getty Images

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?

Lawrie with Jean and, Leonard
Photo Credit: The Golf Channel

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. “

Jean Van de Velde
Photo credit Golf.swingbyswing.com

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?

The Miracle at Medinah, 2012

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

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Dana Fry: ‘Shinnecock Hills is ultimately the best course in the United States for tournament golf.’

By Aman Misra in Mumbai

The 118th playing of the United States Open Championship is days away. This year, the tournament returns to the historic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Long Island, New York for the fifth time.

After being built in 1891-92, the course was all but forgotten save for a US Open in 1896 and a US Women’s Amateur in 1900.
Hosting the 1986 US Open, brought the links layout back into the imagination of golf fans across the world.

The architects who worked on the course are many in number including Willie Davis (1891), Willie Dunn (1894), and CB MacDonald (1901).

There is, however, one name that stands out – William Stephen Flynn. Coming to the property in 1937, Flynn redesigning of the course, has led it to eventually become one of American golf’s treasures.

Your correspondent caught up with Dana Fry of Fry/Straka Design.
Fry is part of the trio of architects who designed Erin Hills, site of last year’s US Open Championship.

In an interview, he talks about the uniqueness of Shinnecock as a golf course apart from Flynn’s lasting legacy.

The Q&A format has been retained, with edits at places to ensure readability.

Aman – William Flynn’s name lives on even today. For our readers, can you in your words give an introduction to the gentleman who is considered a master designer? 

Dana – He was born in Boston, Massachusetts and was an accomplished golfer. Flynn was a friend of Hugh Wilson who designed both courses at Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia.

William Flynn. Photo Credits: friedegg.com

During that project, Flynn was an integral part of the design process with Wilson and they were going to start a design business together but Wilson got sick so instead, he started a design firm with Howard Toomey.
Flynn handled all the design aspects and Toomey handled the engineering side of their projects. Together Flynn & Toomey built some of America’s greatest courses.

“Flynn had many great skills but routing a golf course was perhaps his best skill.”

Aman – What is Flynn’s influence on golf architects today? 

Dana – Flynn had many great skills but routing a golf course was perhaps his best skill. Like a few other great architects, Flynn selected green sites first and would locate the rest of the holes from there.

Shinnecock Hills Layout. Photo Credits: artistsgolf.com

“A common trait among Flynn’s courses is the variety of the holes. He didn’t like holes that looked alike appearing on any of his courses.”

Aman – Speak about his style of design? 

Dana – A common trait among Flynn’s courses is the variety of the holes. He didn’t like holes that looked alike appearing on any of his courses.
He used the natural hills, valleys, and streams to create the strategy for his golf holes and liked to feature dramatic vistas. Generally, he also routed golf holes to follow the natural slope of the land.

“(To win at Shinnecock), you must drive boldly, play demanding approach shots, hit treacherous recovery shots, and the putting depending on your location on the green can be very challenging.”

Aman – What makes Shinnecock different from other classic layouts? 

Dana – Shinnecock is located on a treeless site with sandy soil, which is indicative of a links sight in the United Kingdom but it sits a couple miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The course sits on almost 260 acres of land that is very rare for a course this old. The course was built with the wind in mind so the longest holes usually play downwind and are open in front. The holes that play into the normal wind are usually shorter with more exacting shots required. I think it’s ultimately the best course in the US for tournament golf.
You must drive boldly, play demanding approach shots, hit treacherous recovery shots, and the putting depending on your location on the green can be very challenging.

The course sits on almost 260 acres of land that is very rare for a course this old.

Aman – In courses like Shinnecock Hills, Pine Valley, and Cherry Hills are there lessons for the modern designer? 

Pine Valley, New Jersey.  Photo Credits: Forbes

Dana – Absolutely. These three courses all share several common traits.
First and foremost all these courses are built on great natural sites. Very different from each other, but dramatic in their own ways. Each course has a fantastic routing plan, has lots of memorable shots and other characteristics that make them stand out. All of these courses require finesse around the greens to score and nearly every hole on these courses offer alternate routes and risk-reward opportunities. Another thing that Flynn was noted for was creating golf holes on a grand scale and that is evident in these three courses.

“If not very windy and soft (conditions), I say ten under wins and possibly lower. If dry and windy, four under.”

Aman – The last 3 times the Open came to Shinnecock, the course has done well to live up to the United States Golf Association (USGA) motto of ‘protecting par’.

Golf Club technology has improved vastly since 2004, abd so has agronomy. In that light, what do you think will be a good score come Sunday?

Dana – The scoring will greatly depend on the weather conditions. Nowadays, these guys play a very different game and unless a course is tricked up under ideal conditions they will shoot low scores. If not very windy and soft (conditions), I say ten under wins and possibly lower. If dry and windy, four under par.

Aman – Talk about the changes the course has undergone specifically for this US Open.

Dana – A few years back, Shinnecock Hills hired Coore & Crenshaw to renovate the course. They added 10 new back tees and created much larger fairways in some cases up to 60 yards wide. These were done to create different angles to attack the course from.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
Photo Credits: cooreandcrenshaw.com

These changes created about 50 acres of fairways. After the US Open at Erin Hills, the USGA decided to narrow fairways down in some places.
For the US Open this year, there will be 42 yards of fairway, which is much wider than in 2004 when the course had less than 30 acres of fairway.

From talking to John Jennings the superintendent at Shinnecock, the greens were brought out to their original size but the contours of the greens were not changed. The restoration also included bringing the bunker play closer to the ideal line and a return to more naturalized dune blowouts.

“From an architect’s standpoint, I hope it is windy so it creates a stern test for the players.”

Aman – On Sunday in 2004, the broadcast said the green speeds were at 11. Later on the back nine, they said it was well over 12, closer to 13.
Can we expect similar speeds this year? 

I am confident the USGA will keep green speeds between 12-13 this year. With the proper amount of water in the subsurface and by monitoring the number of times they cut and roll the greens they will not have a problem with greens at this speed.

[NOTE: Stimping refers to green speeds measured by a device called a Stimpmeter. One applies force to a golf ball and measures the distance traveled in feet to come to the number. Obviously, the higher the number the faster the green.]

Aman – Do you think the wind will play a part in the Championship this June? 

Dana – Shinnecock sits on a hill not far from the Atlantic Ocean. By nature, it is a windy place and for sure during the tournament, the winds should play an integral part of this tournament. From an architect’s standpoint, I hope it is windy so it creates a stern test for the players.

Aman – The last three winners at Shinnecock, Raymond Floyd, Corey Pavin and Retief Goosen were distinct – gritty characters.
Can you think of anyone in the present generation who fits the bill? 

L to R: Winners at Shinnecock Hills: Raymond Floyd(1986), Corey Pavin(1995), Retief Goosen(2004).
Photo Credits: Multiple sources

Dana – I can think of several. Most notably Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner, Brian Harman, Zach Johnson and Rafa Cabrera-Bello to name a few.

All of these players are at 150 or lower in the driving distance category (out of 206 players who have played enough tournaments to have their stats measured).

The above players are very accomplished and if they are playing at their peak could win the US Open at Shinnecock. If the conditions are fast and firm I think they have a much better chance than if the course is soft and plays long.

Feature photo credit – Golf.com

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“Shubhankar is learning every step of the way” : Gurbaaz Maan

by Aman Misra in Mumbai

This year 9,049 applicants teed it up in qualifying in spots across the world, vying for spots in the United States National Open Golf Championship.

Not far from last week’s tournament host at Muirfield Village Golf Club, was the Lakes Golf and Country Club, host to the single-day sectional qualifier.

A grueling 36-hole affair was held with much media attention given that there were marquee players such as Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley involved.

When the dust settled, 14 out of 120 advanced to the historical Shinnecock Hills for the playing of the Open next week.

Among those was Indian golfer, Shubhankar Sharma, coming off a whirlwind two weeks on the PGA Tour.

Your correspondent caught up with Sharma’s bagman and mentor Gurbaaz Maan to talk qualifying and preparation for the ‘brutal’ week that is the US Open.

Maan and Sharma in Mexico, earlier in the year

Speaking on the phone from Ohio, Maan has memories of the last Open held at Shinnecock in 2004; watching on TV as South African Retief Goosen won his second US Open.
“Something that stood out was how hard the greens were,” he says.

Onto the discussion of Sharma’s game, he talks about the minute adjustments professionals make when they shift from the east to the west of the world working their way up the big time.

“Playing in the (United) States is nothing Shubhankar hasn’t seen before. For him, it was negotiating the rough and the differences in greens.” offers Maan.

Every golfer has certain instincts growing up. These may need to be adjusted given the differences in conditions depending on where one is playing in the world.

After Sharma rallied to finish in the Top-20 at Ben Hogan’s home tournament, he missed cut the next week at the Memorial hosted by Jack Nicklaus.

Rallying in Mexico

In Maan’s words, this was a blessing in disguise.

“I’ve lived in Columbus, Ohio (the city that hosts the Memorial) and I’m familiar with the courses here. Coming into Jack’s place, Shubhankar hit the ball very well but his wedges and putter weren’t doing justice.”

Hours of practice with the lob wedge, a tricky little wedge designed to get the ball up-and-down helped.

Maan adds “In fact, he holed out with the same club during the US Open qualifier that followed the Memorial.”

Sharma finished 69,68 for a total of 137 – two strokes behind the medalists Sungjae Im and Shane Lowry to punch his ticket to Shinnecock.

Explaining the competition on the US Tour, Maan says “When the field is always going low, you don’t have a choice but to shoot low scores. Shubhankar understands this now.”

At the Masters

Speaking about Sharma’s first appearance at the Masters’ tournament earlier in the year, Maan says the experience for any rookie is overwhelming. “He’s learned to treat it like just any other golf tournament.”

For Sharma, this is the year of learning. Stories of tour professionals getting used to conditions on and off the course in faraway lands are not uncommon.

Shubhankar is listening and adjusting every step of the way.

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