By Brian Keogh
Peter Lawrie has endured some dark times in the course of his 11-year professional career, but when day dawned on a sun-kissed Dublin bank holiday Monday, the modest 34-year old could relax in the bosom of his young family and savour the sweetest of all victories
No doubt Lawrie will enjoy the monetary rewards of his stunning play-off win over Spain’s Ignacio Garrido in Sunday’s Spanish Open with his cheque for €333,330 moving him past Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke to 12th in the Order of Merit and catapulting him 87 places up to world rankings to 156th. He’s also 18th in the Ryder Cup European Points List with a summer of rich pickings to come.
Staggeringly, his victory was Ireland’s fourth in eight weeks since Graeme McDowell won in Korea and the third in a row following Damien McGrane’s Volvo China Open win and Darren Clarke’s emotional BMW Asian Open triumph in Shanghai.
Yet while his day in the sun took his career earnings past the €2.5 million milestone, the import of Lawrie's achievement cannot be measured in euro and cent alone.
As eight-time European Tour winner Des Smyth pointed out, your maiden tour win is the most special of them all. It is a priceless commodity in terms of confidence and self-belief. A mental barrier smashed to smithereens.
“You can always be categorised as a really good player, but until you go and win, you are never going to believe it yourself,” Smyth said. “Peter has been close a number of times and you almost feel that you are never going to win your first tournament and I know it was very important to him. Very important.
“You can be a journeyman pro all your life and never win a tournament, so it is vitally important for your confidence. You always remember when you win your first tournament and I will always remember beating Nick Price to win Sun Alliance Match Play at Fulford in 1979. It is a big stepping stone in your career and you feel so much better about yourself as a winner.”
Lawrie was almost lost for words in the immediate aftermath of his victory as his early struggles on the Asian and European Challenge tours and memories of those long, doubt-filled nights in hotels around the world and countless hours with coach Brendan McDaid poured over him.
“It means everything,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “It’s been a long time coming. I tried and tried and, all of a sudden, here it is, the day has come. Now I just have to soak it all up and try and enjoy it.
“As I said to my wife recently - I have two young kids and I don’t spent a lot of time with them or with her - there has to be a payback somewhere and this is the payback.”
After four failed attempts to earn his card through the European Tour Qualifying School, Lawrie graduated “cum laude” from the Challenge Tour in 2002 and went on to become the first Irish winner of the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award the following season, when he was beaten in a play-off for the Spanish Open in Tenerife.
“I was a bit naïve and green then and didn’t really take my chances,” Lawrie recalled. “So I kept on telling myself ‘you haven’t come all the way from China to Spain to mess this one up. Come on now, take the opportunities and go for it then’. That’s all that it is.”
After watching his close friend and “roommate” McGrane romp to a nine-shot victory in the Volvo China Open a fortnight earlier, Lawrie wondered when his turn would come and didn’t have long to wait.
Forced into a play-of by Garrido’s 72nd hole birdie, the Irishman danced a jig of delight on the same green when he holed an outrageous 20 footer to stay alive before the Spaniard’s splashdown at the second extra hole confirmed the Dubliner's arrival at golf’s top table.
Close pal McGrane watched the action on TV and pointed out that given the glut of Irish winners, winning is more a mental hurdle than a physical one.
“It is spectacular,” said a delighted McGrane. “He deserves it and I am thrilled to bits for Peter and his family. It is so bizarre that we had had three Irish winners, three weeks in a row. But it just shows you half the game is in our heads.
“I am sure Peter would have taken some positives out of my win in China, the way I took the positives out of Graeme’s win in Korea and Darren, I’m sure, took some spin off mine. We have to use everything we can to get across the line and as we saw on TV, you have to pull everything out the bag to snatch a victory.
“I think Peter’s dedication to the game was rewarded and it just shows you that all the Irish tour members are good enough to win tournaments.”
With no Irishmen in Milan for the Italian Open, hopes of a fourth successive Irish victory rest with sole combatant Padraig Harrington in the Players Championship at Sawgrass this week.
As McGrane said: “Certainly we are on the crest of a wave and all hoping it will continue and continue.”