“It’s just a pity he’s not here.”
By Brendan Prunty under The Masters

David Cannon/Getty Images

AUGUSTA, Ga. — When the alarm went off Thursday morning at 5:45 in the house where Paul Lawrie is staying this week, he was in his thoughts. When Lawrie’s car-full of people pulled inside the gates of Augusta National Golf Club just around 7 a.m., he was in his thoughts. Same when he eagled the 13th. And the 15th. And almost certainly when he made the climb up the fairway to the 18th green to close out his first round.

He is always on Lawrie’s mind these days.

Mainly because he was supposed to be here every step of the way.

“Obviously, he would have been walking around and he would have been taking notes,” Lawrie said following his round. “We would have obviously gone through it in the house at night. But obviously we can’t do that anymore. But I think of him every day.”

And why wouldn’t he? Adam Hunter, was a friend, a mentor. He was Lawrie’s swing coach and his sounding board for everything he was doing right and wrong. They were countrymen, both hailing from Scotland. He helped Lawrie to the greatest accomplishment in his career: the 1999 British Open title.

But in October, he was gone at the age of 48.

A two-year battle with Leukaemia ended, leaving Lawrie without his professional other half for the first time. Hunter was the man who spurred a relatively anonymous Scot to a major champion and helped fine-tune his game to put him on the map.

Even now it’s hard for Lawrie to talk about it.

His answers on Hunter after shooting a 3-under 69 during the first round of The Masters, were short and concise. Yet still rife with emotion. This was a day that Hunter would have enjoyed. Watching Lawrie knock in two eagles on the back nine and finishing his round three shots back of the leader. Watching a friend — who had fallen off after that ’99 Open Championship — take the first steps back to major championship contention.

“I tried to be fair, for a wee while, to change the way that people saw it and i failed miserably, to be honest,” Lawrie said about how people perceived his major win.

That was another hurdle that Hunter helped Lawrie clear.

He was the beneficiary when Jean van de Velde blew a three-shot lead on the final hole at Carnoustie. Lawrie had tried the Frenchman by 10 shots going into the final round and ended up walking away with the Claret Jug. People said that he didn’t win it, van de Velde lost it.

“It doesn’t bother me anymore,” Lawrie said. “I just sort of do what I do and get on with it. If people want to give me respect for what happened, then they can. And if they don’t, then it doesn’t bother me anymore. It used to and Adam, he used to get so frustrated with me. He used to pull his hair out with the way I used to sort of see it and when people would say something negative about me. It used to just cause me so much grief.”

It took a while for Lawrie to get back to where he was.

He went winless from August 2002 to March of last year. But when he finally learned how to accept that his British Open win would forever be linked to van de Velde’s disaster, Lawrie found the peace he was looking for.

The 43-year old isn’t thinking about what may happen this week. He’s just focused on Friday’s second round and trying to build upon what he created on this first day. That’s another one of the lessons that Adam instilled in him. And even though he’s not here to witness it come to fruition this week, that doesn’t mean he’s far from his mind.

“I don’t think it’s just been the last couple of weeks,” Lawrie said. “He’s on my mind every day, to be fair. I think of him all the time, as you can imagine. It’s just a pity he’s not here.”

Contributor Brendan Prunty is the golf writer for the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey. He can be reached at bprunty@starledger.com and can be followed at Twitter.com/BrendanPrunty. This is his second Masters tournament.