Paul Lawrie won the 1999 Open Championship in a play-off after being 10 shots behind at the start of day four
The Open 2019
Date: 18-21 July Course: Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland
Coverage: Live radio and text commentary across all four days. Highlights each night on BBC Two.

It is one of the greatest stories in golf. A local player, ranked 241 in the world, qualifies for The Open at Carnoustie and comes from 10 shots back on the final day to claim a career-defining triumph.

Twenty years on, Paul Lawrie remains the last Scot to win a major. And he knew his astonishing triumph was on the moment he watched Jean van de Velde play the fool with a policeman’s hat before their play-off.

Now 50, Lawrie recalls the mind games, tension and sensible celebrations of his incredible Open victory.

‘Top four was the goal for the day’

After coming through qualifying, Lawrie’s pre-tournament aim was simply to make the cut. And, starting the final round 10 shots adrift of the leader – Frenchman Van de Velde – thoughts of lifting the Claret Jug didn’t enter his mind.

“Top four was the goal for the day,” he says. “I hadn’t played in the Masters and the top four got invited. Also, I wasn’t in the Scottish Dunhill Cup team at that point – it was picked after The Open and Andrew Coltart was in that position. He and I laugh about it to this day, that I took his place in the Dunhill Cup team. But that was the stuff going on in my head, not winning The Open.

“At the 12th, I hit a beautiful second shot from the left-hand rough to five feet and knocked it in for birdie. All of a sudden, the cameras were there, the crowd were swelling and you know you have a chance at three or four behind with six to play.”

‘The way they were behaving, I felt I would win’

After posting an excellent closing 67 to finish six over par, it was a case of watch and yearn for the 30-year-old Scot.

But he could scarcely believe his eyes as Van de Velde suffered a dramatic collapse within touching distance of glory. The Frenchman was three shots clear with a hole to play, but a disastrous triple-bogey seven – hitting a grandstand railing, duffing a chip into the Barry Burn and then finding a bunker – let the Claret Jug slip from his grasp.

Jean van de Velde put his ball in the burn on the 72nd hole on his way to a triple bogey

Lawrie wrenched it away after “ingenious” psychology from his coach, Adam Hunter, before the four-hole play-off with Van de Velde and American Justin Leonard.

“As we were in the buggy to the 15th tee, Adam could tell I was really nervous,” Lawrie says. “So he told me, when the boys arrived on the tee, to look into their eyes, knowing they would be nervous.

“Justin Leonard arrived first and he was gone – he didn’t look in a good way. He had won in ’97 and had the most to lose as he was expected to beat Jean and me. Then Jean arrived and he had lost his hat. He was playing about with the policeman’s hat at the back of the tee, putting it on, cracking jokes with people and I thought, ‘Man, he’s trying to hide his nerves here’.

“Straight away, I just felt, ‘I’m going to win The Open. The way these boys were behaving, keep yourself together and you’re going to be Open champion.’ It was Adam who did that, no question.”

‘You can’t stop your body shaking’

Those mind games gave Lawrie the edge and he held his nerve to end the play-off even par – with his two rivals three over – before savouring the celebrations with a clear head.

“I didn’t drink an awful lot back then – three or four beers a year,” he says. “We had a beer at the house, [my wife] Marian and I and my brother-in-law, and watched the play-off back and slipped off to sleep. Not with the Jug next to me – looking back, what was I thinking about?”

Lawrie concedes he “got lucky” with Van de Velde’s infamous 72nd-hole meltdown but has sympathy for the Frenchman, whom he still regards as a friend. “Him and I have always got on brilliantly,” the Scot says. “There’s been this false thing over the years that we don’t get on. It’s the exact opposite.

“I get a little upset when you hear people say, ‘Oh it’s ridiculous, if you’ve got a six to win, I could do it.’ Well, until you’re in that position, on that tee with the chance to win the biggest event in the world, you can’t realise how hard that is. You can’t stop your body shaking, your hands shaking. You’re not in control of what’s happening.”

‘Adam was the difference for me’

Paul Lawrie and coach Adam Hunter, who died in 2011

The influence of fellow Scot and former pro Hunter – who died from leukaemia in 2011 aged 48 – on Lawrie’s career cannot be overstated.

“I’ve had huge help from a number of coaches over the years, but Adam was the difference for me,” says the Scot who has eight European Tour titles.

“He gave me a discipline I didn’t have before of how to practise, when to practise, when to rest. He wasn’t scared to boot me up the backside when I wasn’t doing what he felt I should be.

“His honesty was the best thing about him. And his work ethic – he would never go until I went. He was absolutely amazing for me.”

Scotland’s new breed ‘pretty exciting’

Lawrie tees up at Royal Portrush this week in the 148th Open Championship, working his way back to fitness and form after surgery to repair a ruptured tendon he had unknowingly been suffering with for the last five years.

What are the chances of one of his young compatriots following in his footsteps and lifting the Claret Jug?

“I don’t see why not,” Lawrie says. “We have six or seven all about the same level and they’ve got to feed off each other. I had that with Monty [Colin Montgomerie] and Sam [Torrance] and [Sandy] Lyle, where if they played well, I wanted to beat them the next week.

“We have some players capable of winning at the highest level and we’ve not had that for quite a while. It’s pretty exciting.”

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