Laureation address: Paul Stewart Lawrie OBE

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Robert Fleming, Director of Development

Thursday 6 December 2018

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Paul Stewart Lawrie OBE.

Champion Golfer of the Year, Paul Lawrie. Those must be very satisfying words to hear.

Known to one and all in golf as ‘Chippy’ because of the excellence of his work around the greens, Paul is one of only eight players to have competed in more than 600 European Tour events. In those, he has amassed eight victories. These include his maiden European Tour victory in 1996 when he won the Catalonia Open, his unforgettable Open triumph at Carnoustie in 1999, and also winning the Dunhill Links Championship here in St Andrews in 2001.

Over the course of his 32-year professional career, Paul has twice represented Europe in the Ryder Cup. The first in 1999 was the infamous Brookline defeat to the USA 14 ½ to 13 ½, and his resurgence to form in the 2012 Ryder Cup victory at Medinah, Illinois, where Paul played a pivotal role. He won his single matches on both Ryder Cup appearances. He has also played multiple times for Great Britain and Ireland in the Seve Trophy, as well as being part of the Scotland sides at the Dunhill and World Cups.

Off the course, Paul plays a significant role in grassroots golf through his eponymous junior foundation and has three times hosted the Paul Lawrie Matchplay tournament on the European Tour. He was made a Member of the British Empire in 1999 and awarded an OBE in 2013.

In all of those accomplishments, Paul has remained rooted in Aberdeen surrounded by his close family and friends. According to his biographer and friend John Huggan, he describes himself modestly as “a pretty good player who definitely got lucky at just the right time, but who has done alright apart from that.”

Paul Lawrie left school at the age of 17 with a relatively modest handicap of five. He was soon spotted by the head professional at Banchory Golf Club, Doug Smart, who offered him a job as an assistant. That was Paul’s truly lucky break in golf. He was successful in the Tartan Tour, topping the money list in 1991, capping a successful season by qualifying comfortably in 12th position at the notorious end of season European Tour Qualifying School.

What Paul Lawrie achieved at The Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999 has never been equalled by another Scot in the men’s game since. Paul remains the record holder for overcoming the largest final-round deficit – he was ten shots off the lead going into the last day – where he shot a magnificent 67 and rose up the field as others ahead of him faltered. I was lucky enough to be there as a spectator for the final two rounds that year. With a radio earpiece in one ear, I was running around the course trying to capture the best of the action, and word was out that a special round was being compiled by a home-based player. When Paul finished his round, he was the leader in the clubhouse at six over par with a score of 290, which was later equalled by Justin Leonard. It was already destined to be good enough to earn a top ten finish, a first ever invitation to the Masters and, almost certainly, a Ryder Cup debut.

While all of the above would have been satisfying enough in an Open for which Paul had to pre-qualify the week before, that 67 was destined to earn a play-off when the leader Jean Van de Velde hit his third shot into the Barry Burn fronting the 18th green.

Paul’s victory in the four-hole play-off against Leonard and Van de Velde was sealed by a memorable 4-iron that finished four feet from the cup on the 18th green. The resulting birdie saw him claim the famous Claret Jug by a comfortable two shot margin. Jack Nicklaus, the 18 times major winner, is best placed to know how good that clinching shot was. He told Paul later “That 4-iron you hit to the last green at Carnoustie was one of the best shots I’ve ever seen anyone hit under pressure.”

Paul’s commitment to nurturing junior golf, and building a stable of aspiring young golf professionals through the Paul Lawrie Foundation which he formed in 2001, has also brought widespread recognition. Sons Craig and Michael are both exceptional young golfers, and Michael is currently a golf scholar at Stirling University. Recent success stories for the Foundation include Sam Locke, who won the Silver Medal for the leading amateur at the Open Championship in 2018, back at Carnoustie; and David Law, a professional attached to the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre, who has recently gained playing rights on the European Tour for 2019.

It is also important to acknowledge Paul’s wider team in all that he has achieved. There is the continuous support of wife Marian - who started out as caddie before allegedly sacking Paul; the other caddies, including Paddy Byrne on the bag for the Open win, sports psychologists, swing coaches and manager. However, there is one person in Paul’s team who has undoubtedly had a bigger impact than anyone else, and that is former tour pro turned coach and mentor, Adam Hunter, who joined Paul in the year leading to his Open Championship win. Sadly, Adam succumbed to his personal battle with leukaemia in October 2011. I know Paul attributes much of his ongoing personal motivation and success to the memory of the drills and advice that Adam offered.

Golf is such a testing game, both mentally and physically. Paul’s determination, dedication, and commitment to winning led to golf’s ultimate prize. And his ability to pick himself up from 2010, qualify for the 2012 Ryder Cup, and winning further titles on the European Tour in the process, serves as an inspirational life lesson to our graduating class of 2018.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his accomplishments as a champion golfer, with a distinguished and decorated career representing Scotland and Europe, and for his service to grassroots golf, I ask you to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Paul Stewart Lawrie OBE.

Paul Lawrie's response

Thank you very much Robert, but you missed "good looking" from that list of very nice things you said about me. 

I just want to obviously congratulate all my fellow graduates today. You all obviously worked very hard to get here. I just hit a little white ball around a field and got lucky a couple of times, but you guys have done some work which is very good. I'm sure your families are all very proud of you. 

I was a little worried about coming today, obviously, in case I messed up, but then Aberdeen beat Rangers 1 - 0 last night, so whatever happens today is good with me. 

To finish off, again, congratulations. Your families should be proud of you. Well done.