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Opinion & Analysis

Scotland’s forgotten major winner

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When the name Paul Lawrie is mentioned on GolfWRX, it is usually on a forum thread where the question of the worst major winner of all time is posed. Recognition of sorts, but recognition, which is beginning to slip away at least in minds of many who have replaced Lawrie’s name with that of Danny Willett.

That Lawrie is treated in that way is as disappointing as it is wrong. The Home of Golf has not produced many major winners in the last 100 years. Sandy Lyle aside, Paul Lawrie is it. So how can it be that the winner of The Open, eight European Tour events, and a two-time Ryder Cup player has been relegated to such to an afterthought amongst golf fans, commentators, and tournament organizers. In spite of his efforts to get invited, he is now being regularly ignored by Champions Tour events and he faces a yearly ghosting the PNC Father-Son Challenge that he so dearly wishes to play in with one of his sons.

That things have seem to be going this way for Lawrie has perhaps been inevitable. A “lucky” major winner who only happened to shoot a 67 on the final day, around the most difficult Open course in recent memory before then birding the toughest two holes on the toughest closing stretch of the toughest test in golf. The most recent high point in his career is inarguably his qualifying for the Ryder Cup in 2012. 13 years after making his debut and a number of years after seemingly having slipped into obscurity he was back on golf’s grandest stage. His play that week was solid before a spectacular Sunday saw him beat Brandt Snedeker in singles.

Since that time, age and injuries have caught up with him with a particularly problematic foot condition preventing him from playing much at all during 2018. He is now 50 and into the senior ranks. Thus far, he has not caught the attention of the Champions Tour with his first start looking likely to be April at the Insperity Invitational.

Can you imagine one-time major winners such as Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, or Mike Weir being similarly ignored when their time comes to compete with the over 50s? If it was starts on the Champions Tour that Lawrie is looking for, it seems that he would have been better off playing professional baseball like John Smoltz, as opposed to winning the games oldest major.

Over and above his own professional achievements, the stellar work of his Paul Lawrie Foundation in attracting juniors to golf and encouraging them into its competitive arena should be recognised. Founded in 2001, the Foundation has grown steadily over the years and provided support, mentoring and places to play for juniors all over the north and north east of Scotland. To date, the Foundation has been a huge success with David Law, a player long under the wing of Lawrie now making it on to and winning on the European Tour and recently turned professional Sam Locke who won the silver medal at Carnoustie perhaps the most famous graduate.

The successes of Law and Locke and the motivation that provides for those coming behind them is as a direct result of Lawrie’s vision in creating the foundation. The foundation itself indicates that it would be great if players who have come through its ranks end up winning on Tour or even a major but before all of that, the goal is simple — get clubs into the hands of youngsters and get them playing.

Thus far, Lawrie has been able to achieve that with great success, embarrassing the efforts of organizations such as the R&A and Scottish Golf Union. A major winner who genuinely has had a massive impact on getting people to play the game — surely that is something worth recognizing and remembering!

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Matthew O’Neill is neither a professional writer nor a professional golfer, he is simply a self-proclaimed golf fanatic. Having been a golfer from the age of 8, he has been a member at his home club in Scotland from the age of 13. In the time he has been a member there he has worked in the Pro Shop, served on the club council and currently captains the Men’s Scratch Team. Playing off a handicap of 3, he competes in club and regional competitions and regularly attends at professional events. When he is not talking or playing golf, his time is spent with his young family and at work as a lawyer. A product of his generation, as well as being active on GolfWRX forums, he regularly uses social media to keep up to date with the latest golf news and views, please feel free to reach out to him on those platforms.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Harvey

    Mar 10, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    His RC 5n4 singles win over Snedeker was all the better considering Sneds came freshly off his 10 million Fed x cup win. If Lawrie was thumped that day not an eyelid would have blinked due to little expectation, yet very few eyelids blinked even after his superb performance. Trivia maybe, but when Phil won the open at Muirfield Lawrie’s final three round score was only bettered by the actual winner. Lawrie, a class player who deserves better from certain quarters.

  2. Stixman

    Mar 10, 2019 at 4:57 am

    Twaddle, no-one on our side has forgotten him or the generosity of his contribution to golf post Carnoustie.

  3. Mark.

    Mar 7, 2019 at 5:49 am

    I have not forgotten him.

  4. John Wilkes

    Mar 7, 2019 at 5:36 am

    Great article. A man who does so much to promote the game in Scotland and a great player. Poor to see he can’t even get into the father/son event

  5. Rich Douglas

    Mar 6, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    From the US Tour, let’s not forget Orville Moody, whose only win was the US Open. Or Shaun Micheel (PGA), or even Michael Campbell (US Open). My favorite for this category is Andy North. He won 3 times on tour, two of the the US Open.

  6. P

    Mar 6, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    If Paul could have played on the PGA Tour in the States immediately after his Open win and had got decent results for a few years like a couple wins and a slew of top 10s, may be he would have been known and more respected in places like WRX but everything he did and was happened before WRX really took hold.
    He had one of the nicest swings, it’s a shame he couldn’t produce more with it.

  7. the bishop

    Mar 6, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Paul Lawrie is a major champion and legitimate one. Having said that the 99 Open was far more memorable for how it was lost, not how it was won. Unfair as that may be it is Lawrie’s unfortunate burden to bear. Whether that factors in to his inability to gain Champion’s Tour starts or Father/Son Challenge invites I don’t know. He’s a nice player who outside of one win had a respectable albeit somewhat lackluster career. I suspect that has more to do with it.

  8. Jack

    Mar 6, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Great guy, does so much for golf in Scotland and still a fantastic player when fit. Could win a lot of events on seniors tour if he gets the chance and still capable of a European tour win if fit.

  9. craig

    Mar 6, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    nice work Matty !!!! Joke how he’s struggling to get invites.

  10. cdub

    Mar 6, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    big facts

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Opinion & Analysis

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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