In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Thriston Lawrence talks about his fast and turbulent start to life on the DP World Tour, turning professional at a young age, and looking ahead to his first Major Championship this year
To be the first winner on the DP World Tour in South Africa in December was an amazing feeling, but the whole week was quite a strange experience. I never expected to win after 36 holes. I had one putt left in the first round on Thursday when play was suspended and finished that on Friday morning. After delays for some of the field on Friday we managed to finish up and I felt good about having a four-shot lead. Then we got a message saying it was only going to be a three-round event, and mentally that was really a strange thing to deal with.
You know that if you have two rounds you have the ability to slip up and get it back, but all of a sudden I had one round left with a four-shot lead, and know I can’t slip up over 18 holes or I’ll lose the tournament. I didn’t sleep well that night. Then we teed off on Saturday, I played two holes, and then we got called off and no one knew what was going to happen. They managed to call us over to a conference room after four hours and said ‘we’ve come to a decision, it’s a two-day tournament’.
We all work really hard for good breaks. That was my break, and it was life-changing. Obviously when you win an event you want to win it on the 18th green, so that was a bizarre experience, but I wasn’t going to complain. I felt like I did my job the first two days to give myself a good opportunity, and in the end the bigger decisions were out of my control. It could have been anyone else – it just happened to be me. Sitting there in front of everyone in that meeting was a weird feeling, but it was nice because most of the guys came over and congratulated me - especially the South African guys that play on the DP World Tour.
In general, it’s been a bit of a strange start for me. After winning and then having a break I was really looking forward to playing in my first Rolex Series event in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year, and then I got Covid. I had a morning tee time on Thursday and they called me on Wednesday night at half past nine, and told me I had Covid. I had a headache, but that had been my only symptom and I really had thought a headache was just that - a headache. The medical team then had to check if it might have been a false positive, and re-ran my test, and I got a call at 2am to tell me I definitely had Covid. I had to sit in an apartment for nine days, and the next time I got out was the Thursday morning of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.
I got to play in Dubai, but with zero preparation: I hadn’t seen the golf course or hit a club in nine days. So it was exciting to play my first Rolex event, but I missed the cut and it suddenly felt like two missed cuts in a row. It wasn’t a nice feeling, but it’s part of what we have been living and are living in now, and luckily there are so many events on the new schedule so all I can do is keep my head down and keep working.
I did manage to play in both events in Ras al Khaimah, which brought back some nice memories of winning there on the Mena Tour at the start of my career. It wasn’t the same course in Ras al Khaimah, but that place inspires a lot of confidence for me because I finished ahead of Darren Clarke that week. Obviously that was towards the end of his career before he went to the PGA TOUR Champions, but you can’t help but get a confidence boost competing against an Open Champion and Ryder Cup player, and it was fun to be in the group behind him and give him a go at the start of my career.
I’ve been a pro for quite a long time now, and although it’s been a tough road, I don’t regret any of it. I turned professional when I was 17, and because college golf was never ever in my mind, I decided I’d rather go the route of struggling early in my pro career and working my way up.
At the time I had achieved everything that I wanted to in South Africa, so if I wanted to achieve anything else in the world, I probably needed to go to college but I wasn’t interested in it. I think it’s a personality thing - you look at their schedule and they play 12 events in a year. I was used to playing 35 events, and I didn’t want to do anything but play golf. And I’m still young, I’ve only just turned 25, so I feel like the path I decided to take was the right the decision for me.
I really think that it has made me so much stronger mentally. I see some people come out and have success early, and then they get their downfall and don’t know how to manage it. Luckily I’ve had some perks and good times – I won on the Mena Tour and I finished second in one Challenge Tour event, but those first few years were mostly bad, and that made me stronger mentally. I was lucky I got to learn from watching a lot of experienced players work their way around a golf course in that time too, because they helped me quickly realise that this game is a marathon. I’m definitely a lot more patient, and try hard not to put unnecessary pressure on myself. Everyone wants to do well, but so many people put unnecessary and indirect pressure on themselves at events, and you have to give yourself a break, just go out and play golf.
I don’t think my game or my ability has changed as much as the mental side of things since I’ve been out here, but I’ve always done things my way. I have my coach but I’m not a very technical golfer and the way I do things is a lot different to most people. I’m used to playing with guys who say ‘I never see you on the driving range’, and I do go to the range but I play a lot of golf course golf and that’s what I like and feel benefits me the most.
I’ve always liked to play the course over going to the range. I didn’t grow up very wealthy, so while I had the opportunity to play golf I didn’t have the opportunity to go training camps or stuff like that. My father did his PGA in South Africa and he coached me for ten years, but I taught myself a lot just by playing golf and feeling shots on the course – and that’s what I still do. Even my caddie can sometimes find it tough trying to give me a club because sometimes I just see the shot and know what I want to hit, or I will go back ten years and think about a time I hit a similar shot. I’ve never been a technical guy, I’ve always been unorthodox and play the game by feel, and I don’t really care how other people think of that. There are a lot of ways to play this game and practice this game, and obviously you still have to work hard to be able to win events, but I’m happy doing things my way.
Playing the game my way has got me to where I am now, and it feels unbelievable to finally be out here on the DP World Tour. I’ve played on the Sunshine Tour for four years, but I’ve always wanted to improve to the next level. I’ve always wanted to play on one of the best Tours in the world and I feel like I am doing that now, so I’m pleased to be out here every week.
I can’t wait for the rest of the year, to compete in so many events that I’ve seen on TV since I was little. About two years ago, the week before the Dunhill Links I was in London and just went to the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth to walk around outside the ropes. That was only two years ago, and now I’ve got the opportunity to play at places like Wentworth, and also places like Valderrama. It’s quite crazy.
And if you would have told me a year ago that I would be getting ready to play my first Major at the Open at St Andrews I wouldn’t have believed you. It feels like a joke. I’ve been trying to make it through Open qualifying for the last five years and haven’t managed it, so to have qualified through my win is unbelievable. I was actually saying to both my caddie and my parents that I’m also really grateful I’m playing at a course that I know. I have played St Andrews quite a lot as an amateur, at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, so I think that familiarity will make me less nervous than I would be going to a place I didn’t know and playing my first Major.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, and my career, I want to prove to people that I can win over four days on this Tour. But I’m also going to take it step by step. To win is a goal for everybody out here, and you have to have a level of patience to achieve that. So while that’s a definite goal, I feel like I have a good opportunity with all the Rolex Series events and a Major to get myself to the DP World Tour final in Dubai at the end of the year, and that’s a great long term goal for me to focus on this year.