Two-time Open champion Ernie Els will likely take up a good portion of the limelight at this week’s South African Open, but a fellow former winner of the Claret Jug, Paul Lawrie, is another big name to be teeing it up at Ekurhuleni’s Glendower Golf Club on Thursday, and the Scot will be out to end a hiatus from the winner’s circle that has stretched more than two years.
Lawrie will also be making his first appearance in golf’s second-oldest national Championship in over a decade, but his track record in the Republic is a useful one nonetheless, and he cut a jovial figure before Tuesday’s Pro-Am.
“It’s nice to be back out again, I’ve not played for a wee while,” the eight-time European Tour winner noted. “I’ve not played since the Portugal Masters, so I thought it would be nice to come out here to the heat to get me going for the Middle East.
“The weather is one of the biggest pulls for a foreigner like me,” Lawrie continued. “It’s absolutely fantastic! The SA Open is now in the perfect time in the schedule for me too, whereas in the past 10 years or so it just hasn’t fitted in. It’s a great tournament though, with a wonderful history.
“I just really enjoy coming here, I enjoy everything about it. The people are great, the golf courses are cool, and I’m chuffed to be here,” he added.
Lawrie enjoyed a fine season in 2011, and an even better one in 2012 that included two Tour victories and a crucial point in the Sunday singles at Medinah as Europe pulled off their famous comeback. However, his form has since tailed off, and although he offered no excuses for his downturn in fortunes, he is confident of an imminent improvement.
“Yeah, 2013 was just a terrible year really,” Lawrie said ruefully. “I was in all the events, even the WGC’s and the majors. There wasn’t an event in the world I couldn’t have played, but I just played really poorly. I drove the ball badly, hardly had the ball in play much at all, and I didn’t even finish inside the top 60 in the Order of Merit. It was just a disastrous year.
“Then I got injured towards the end of ’13 and the start of ’14, and only played 16 events last year. I was probably only fit for about five or six of them too, so it’s just been a bit of a downward sort of spiral. But I think the past few months I’ve started to feel like I’m going to get back up there, so that’s the plan.”
In truth, it hasn’t just been injury and eligibility that have kept Lawrie off the course recently. The 46-year old has been actively involved with the Paul Lawrie Foundation, an organisation he founded in 2001. He has also spearheaded a project to bring more professional golf to his native Aberdeen, and it has resulted in a new European Tour event being established for the 2015 Race to Dubai season – the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Matchplay, which will be played at the end of July.
“The Foundation has grown steadily pretty much every year since it came into being, and it now looks after thousands of children in the North East, which is where I was born,” he explained. “I really enjoy spending time with it. I’ve probably spent a wee bit too much time with it and my golf has suffered as a result! But I’m going to be back focused on what I’m doing now.
“As for the Matchplay, Saltire are my main sponsor at the moment. I wanted to bring back more tournaments to the area, and the Scottish Open was such a massive success in Aberdeen. So our team did a bit of work and we put together a tournament that sees the European Tour coming back to Aberdeen again, so we’re really excited about that.”