PEERING out from one of the suites at the Carnoustie hotel that overlooks the 18th green of the famed Angus links still gives Paul Lawrie the shivers.

With the balcony doors wide open and the kind of nip in the east coast air that could test the resolve of the sturdiest brass monkey, it was hardly surprising his senses were prickled. It’s not the temperature that stirs the spirits in these parts, of course.

It’s 18 years since Lawrie won the Open at Carnoustie and, with the game’s most venerated championship returning to this neck of the golfing woods in 2018, Scotland’s last male major champion was back in his happy hunting ground doing his bit to help the R&A sell some cheap early-bird tickets.

Loading article content

You can’t put on a price on an Open victory, mind you. The nature of this game means Lawrie gets to tread these previously triumphant pastures on a regular basis in the Dunhill Links Championship. But this week was a time to crank up the nostalgia factor.

Lawrie still has the 4-iron in the soul. That particular club, which gilded the lily of his Open win in 1999 as he famously launched an approach to within a few feet of the 18th pin in the play-off, made a guest appearance on Tuesday. He didn’t hit any balls with it, but the memories came flooding back like a tidal surge in the Barry Burn.

“We were back at the same spot, 221 yards to the pin,” he reflected. “The things you remember eh? I hadn’t actually been down there at the spot with the 4-iron and the putter since then.

“I stopped using that set at the end of 1999. I’ve not hit a ball with that set since then. So that was a bit odd, knowing that was the club that hit the shot and the putter that holed out.

“I still remember what I was thinking before I hit that shot. The left edge of the Rolex clock [on the hotel] was my line. My only thought was ‘left edge of the clock and slow away’.”

Amid the tumult of Jean van de Velde’s infamous collapse, Lawrie remained calmness personified.

“Incredibly, I felt in control and I didn’t feel nervous,” he said. “It was weird. Whereas, with the opening shot of the Ryder Cup later that year, I was just totally out of control and my body was shaking.”

Along with Sandy Lyle’s 7-iron, Lawrie’s 4-iron could probably go on some good old days tour. “I think Sandy’s 7-iron beats my 4-iron any day,” added Lawrie with a smile.

When confronted with a variety of cherished bits of golfing paraphernalia, dewy-eyed enthusiasts tend to end up cooing like pigeons on a first date. When it comes to the tools of his trade, though, Lawrie is not prone to gushing bouts of sentimentality.

“I’m not big on things like that,” he confessed. “The bag, the irons and the wedges sit in my golf room, so I see them every day. But the woods were sold for charity and the [British Golf] museum has the putter. My dad has the ball and cap.

“If I break a club, I can replace it, it doesn’t really bother me. A lot gets made about people changing contracts and changing clubs. I always feel that if I have a couple of days or a week with something new then I can get used to it pretty quickly.

“At the Ryder Cup in 1999, for instance, Monty used my Strata ball. He had nine holes with it and then said ‘right, I’ll just use your ball for the foursomes’. A ball is a ball and after nine holes it doesn’t really matter … and he kept using it in the singles!”

The aches and pains brought on by over a quarter-of-a-century on the tour are beginning to take a toll. “Apart from my groin, my back and my feet, I’m actually feeling quite good,” he said with a wince.

His priorities have been changing over the last year or so. He stills want to be a competitive senior when he hits 50 but the 48-year-old, who has plenty of other golf-related duties to keep him going, has accepted that Faither Time is a tough old competitor.

“I’ve had 26 years and 600 events,” he said. “If I’m not going to play that much then that’s okay. I’m not bothered about it.”

Whatever happens, Lawrie will always be an Open champion.

n Tickets for The 147th Open at Carnoustie go on general sale at early-season prices from 9am today. Visit TheOpen.com/Tickets for full details.