Surely the “most satisfying” round of Paul Lawrie’s career was the brilliant 67 that propelled him to Open glory in 1999, right? It was, after all, the greatest final-round comeback in major history.
It turns out that even that can’t compete with a miracle.
Exactly 10 years ago to the day, the Scot was part of the European team that staged a stunning revival to keep the Ryder Cup on American soil. The Miracle of Medina. Possibly THE greatest sporting comeback of them all.
“The 67 at Carnoustie is obviously very special, but the performance at the Ryder Cup was…wow…I was so proud of that,” Lawrie said.
Here, the 53-year-old dips into his memorabilia bank for a first-hand account of a truly unforgettable sports theater occasion.
“Look how bad you are… go to the gym”
At 43, Lawrie was the oldest player in the European team. His qualification came as a surprise, 13 years after his only Ryder Cup appearance at the Battle of Brookline.
In fact, in 2010 at Celtic Manor, Lawrie had fallen so far short that he was commentating the tournament for television.
His days of playing in the Ryder Cup seemed over – until coach and mentor Adam Hunter stepped in with some stark truths. Hunter was in hospital suffering from leukemia, which was to claim his life the following year, when Lawrie paid him one of his regular visits.
“I walked into the room and he was seriously ill, he had tubes coming out of him,” Lawrie told BBC Scotland’s Tom English. This Sporting Life podcast.
“He says, ‘I saw you comment the other day – what’s that carry-on? What are you doing? Look what condition you are in – you are overweight. think you’re talking about the Ryder Cup, you should play it.’
“For 15 minutes he just tore me to shreds. I decided, okay, I’m going to get into the next team. Whatever it takes.”
Clarke’s timely putting lesson
Lawrie kept his word, but the dream started to turn into a nightmare once the game started in the Chicago suburb of Medinah. Loud home fans spent much of the first two days screaming and screaming as their heroes opened up a formidable lead.
The Americans finished day one with a 5-3 lead, a gap that had widened to a 10-4 chasm with only two of the four balls from day two still on the course.
Then came a glimmer of hope. Sergio García and Luke Donald picked up a unique win over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Then the deficit was nibbled further when Ian “the postman” Poulter delivered a sizzling spurt of five straight birdies as Rory McIlroy completed one over Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.
Yet Europe’s task was gargantuan. The Americans needed just 4½ runs from 12 singles to claim the trophy.
Lawrie had a lot on his mind after two bruising four-ball losses. Paired with Peter Hanson, they had been pulverized 5&4 by Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson – who set a Ryder Cup record with 13 birdies in 14 holes – before Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts completed one against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar .
“We both played well, but we both putted badly,” Lawrie recalled.
“I went out and was on the green trying to figure out what was going on. Darren [Clarke, vice captain] picked me up because they wanted to discuss ordering singles.
“He said, ‘I’ve been watching your golf a bit this week. I know your stroke has always been really long, but you’re just a bit too long and you slow down when you go in. If you shorten it, you will get more acceleration.
“I hit about five or six putts and they all went in. Right in the middle of the hole, good pace. I thought, ‘Wow.’
“I came home and Darren, after seeing my putts, said, ‘Chippy [Lawrie] must go out early. He’s played very well this week, he’ll knock out everyone he comes up against.”
From “strange meeting” to “paradise”
If Europe’s best were expecting a resounding rallying cry that night from captain Jose Maria Olazabal, they were in for a shock.
“He handed out the singles order and then walked around asking each person if they were going to win,” Lawrie said. “You’re not going to say no, so everyone said yes.
“And he said, ‘Okay, we win and we’re going to bed. The whole thing lasted three or four minutes. It was a really weird meeting.”
The following morning, they headed out to the singles dressed in navy blue and white – a nod to the late, great Seve Ballesteros – and produced a performance the Spaniard would have been proud of.
They needed a quick start and got it, with Donald, McIlroy, Poulter and Rose winning the first four games. The momentum, so crucial in the battle for the Ryder Cup, was now firmly on Europe’s side.
The fifth was Lawrie, taking on Brandt Snedeker, who pocketed $10 million [£8.94m] for winning the Fedex Cup a week prior.
“Olazabal said the first five guys had to win for us to have a chance,” the Scotsman recalled.
“So for me to have no points – I played well from tee to green but I was horrible – going out and shooting six under for 15 holes would be the most satisfying round of golf I’ve ever had .Best performance I have ever [produced] when I had to.”
Lawrie’s 5&3 gutting of Snedeker was the day’s biggest winning margin as Europe clawed their way back in an incredible day of drama.
It was left to Martin Kaymer to roll in a five-foot birdie on the last to take Europe to the holy grail by 14 points, before Francesco Molinari cut in half with Tiger Woods to ensure they won it .
Final score: 14½-13½. Last word to Olazabal: “I don’t know what heaven feels like, but it must be close to that.”