Forgotten Man Wins the British


Paul Lawrie is more than a little disenchanted by the turn of events that have accompanied his 1999 win at the British Open.
The perception has been that he backed in to the trophy, winning only because Jean Van de Velde needed just a double bogey on the 72nd hole to win ' and made a triple. The perception has been that it was the Open that was totally manufactured, Carnoustie greens superintendent John Philp being more important than Lawrie that week. The perception was, quite frankly, that NOBODY won, that Lawrie just happened to be hanging around when, through the process of elimination, he was the final man standing.
Lawrie, as it has developed, is a very solid golfer, ranked No. 47th in the world going into this weeks Open at Royal St. Georges. But he has not been particularly fond of interviews. Responses to questions have been largely yes or no, without much elaboration. Lawrie, from Aberdeen, Scotland, has been very content to simply play golf and let the publicity go elsewhere ' as long as he gets a little for winning the British Open.
Alas, though, he doesnt think he has gotten much.
Maybe hes right. Lawrie stared down a huge deficit ' 10 strokes on the final day, the largest deficit in major championship history ' and won. He shot a 67 in the final round, which tied Craig Parry for the lowest round in the championship. He entered a playoff with Van de Velde and Justin Leonard ' who two years earlier had won this same British Open. And he whipped them both decisively, scoring birdies on the last two holes.
However, he was No. 159 when the week began in 1999, winning just two times in eight years on the European Tour. It took him six years of toiling on minor circuits before he finally made it to the European.
In 1999, his moment of glory came. It began with qualifying, which he barely slid by. Lawrie had to shoot 4-under the final nine holes to make it. He was nothing more than a footnote the first three days. The final day it appeared that Van de Velde had won it, but playing nine groups ahead of the Frenchman, Lawries 67 was strong enough to deserve a king-sized share of credit. Nobody thought he had a chance of winning, including his local bookmakers, who had him at 80-1 odds going into the last round. But everyone agreed that his 67 was a terrific score, considering the manner in which Philp had set up the course.
The fairways were only 12 paces wide in some places. Golf is about character and how it stands up to adversity, Philp said staunchly. Sorry, but thats my opinion.
Virtually nobody who is a golfer agreed with him, but all had to play the course as it was presented to them. And in the end, it was No. 159 Lawrie coming to a playoff with No. 142 Van de Velde ' and a former British Open champion, Leonard.
Leonard should have won in regulation, but he heroically went for the final green in the regulation two and dumped it in the water. He can be forgiven, however, because at the time there appeared to be no way he was going to tie Van de Velde if Leonard did not make a birdie.
And in the four-hole playoff, he again found the water. I basically lost the British Open twice in one day, he said afterwards. That makes it twice as hard to take.
Van de Veldes butchery of the 72nd hole will live forever in golfing infamy, undoing a week of sterling play in which he did everything right in amassing the three-shot lead going into No. 18 Sunday. But beginning with his drive into the right rough, everything he did on that hole was guaranteed to elicit, at best, a playoff ' which he did when Van de Velde eventually sank a clutch six-foot putt.
Im not here to criticize him, said Lawrie. I feel sorry for him. He made a decision, and he went through with it. After being lucky with his tee shot, you expect him to chip it down the fairway and take 5 or 6 and be done with it.
Thankfully for me, he didnt ' but no disrespect to him.
The playoff was all Lawrie, especially after Leonards water ball. Lawrie hit two spectacular 4-iron shots of the final two holes to close the deal, and the reserved Scot was the champion.
The way the course is set up, I would have to say its the best round of golf I have ever played, said Lawrie of the final days heroics. To shoot 4-under par here, even with no wind, is just ' you know ' lovely.
And holding the Open trophy was as big as it gets to the simple man from Aberdeen.
I think every kid dreams about winning the Open, he said. Its a huge thing for anyone to do, especially when you win in Scotland and you live nearby.
But nobody can take the win away from him. Sometimes its true ' one day of magnificent golf can turn away 71 wonderful holes ' and one hole of Van de Velde butchery.