More than a game: a difficult choice

Golf Monthly’s contributing editor Fergus Bisset has had a week away from his beloved Alliance – but with good reason. He headed off to play with former Open champion (and one-time Alliance member) Paul Lawrie at the links where he was victorious in 1999.

One of the proudest stories for members of the North East Alliance is this: The year Paul Lawrie won the Open at Carnoustie (1999) he also won the Alliance at Buckpool. He triumphed in the latter with a one under par 69, it doesn?t sound overly impressive until you consider he had a ten on his scorecard. Ten years earlier Lawrie won the NE Alliance Championship. It?s a title that?s been claimed by some great men over the years including Ryder Cup player Harry Bannerman (victorious on seven occasions) and Walker Cup player Sandy Pirie.

Given his affinity with the Alliance it was ironic that Paul Lawrie should be the reason I was unable to compete in the first round of this year?s Championship. My choice this Wednesday was a tricky one: Travel with Stewart and Cormack to Duff House near Banff for Alliance Champs round one, or, go to Carnoustie for a game with the last man to win the Open there. After much soul searching (about seven seconds worth) I?d made my choice: Duff House here we come?.. joke. I, of course, went to Carnoustie.

Paul Lawrie?s route to golf?s upper echelons was quite different to the majority of today?s up and coming youngsters. He turned pro in 1986 at the age of 17 with a handicap of four. He got a job as an assistant to Doug Smart at Banchory Golf Club, (that?s my golf club.) I don?t really remember him working there as I was just a wee nipper, unsurprisingly, he doesn?t remember me either. But Paul?s always maintained his connections with Banchory. We named a hole after him ? the 14th. Fittingly, it was built on the old practice ground where Paul spent hours developing his game. His picture hangs in pride of place in our clubhouse and he often visits the club when he?s back in Aberdeen. One of my proudest stories is that when Paul won the Open at Carnoustie I was working in the pro-shop at Banchory. I was sitting in the back of the shop staring at our tiny telly as he holed the winning putt. Stewart (who I was working with at the time) and I danced a jig around the FootJoys.

So it was a great honour for me to get a game with Paul, particularly at Carnoustie. On the drive down I was excited but more than a little concerned with the state of my game. On Tuesday I played a warm-up round with Stewart and Cormack and was abysmal. At one point I dropped my hat on the ground, had a swing at it and missed. I was extremely anxious not to replicate that performance.

The day was organised by TaylorMade, Paul?s new equipment sponsor, and IMG who represent him were also present. Paul joined me, Lewine Mair from The Telegraph and Mike Aitken from The Scotsman in a fourball. Given my poor form I was nervous on the first tee and felt very fortunate that my drive went almost straight out of somewhere close to the middle of the club. When we got to the first green Mike ably demonstrated I?ve a great deal to learn in this profession. Having holed a 15-foot putt for par he turned to Paul and said, ?By the way Paul, you?re my partner and we?re one up.? Lewine and I were pretty much resigned to defeat from a very early stage.

Playing with someone of Paul?s calibre always delivers a stark reminder of the gulf between top professionals and good amateurs. His consistency of ball striking is impressive and his short game immaculate. On Carnoustie?s superb greens you could basically call it a gimme if Paul was within 20 feet of the cup. I was very happy to two-putt from similar positions. I didn?t embarrass myself though and completed the eight holes we played in just one over par. Obviously I acted like, ?Yeah, this is how I always play.? Inside I was thinking more along the lines of, ?Phew, got away with that one. I wish this was how I always played.?

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?