FRIDAY night’s Scottish Golf Awards doubled up as a marvellous celebration of Sandy Lyle’s glittering career. It was also a sad reminder that things are still not well between the country’s two most decorated golfers in the past 30 years.
While Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sam Torrance, Barry Lane, Ken Brown and Paul Lawrie were all effusive in their praise of Lyle via recorded interviews as he received a lifetime achievement award, there wasn’t a single word from Colin Montgomerie.
The eight-time European No 1 might not have been asked to add his voice to the chorus of praise for his compatriot, but a more likely scenario is that Montgomerie would have declined such a request due to the fact it appears he’s still not forgiven the two-time major winner over a much-publicised spat during the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry.
In an interview he gave the previous week while competing in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, Lyle mentioned Jakarta, where Montgomerie had incorrectly replaced his ball in a better position following a weather delay during the 2005 Indonesian Open.
After his remarks were published, Lyle admitted his frustration at missing out on the Ryder Cup captaincy had prompted him to make an ill-advised remark. “I regret bringing up the 2005 incident in Jakarta,” he said in a hastily-arranged press conference in Ayrshire. “Colin Montgomerie and I are not at war. Colin is a great champion and a good friend.”
If he’d stopped at that, then perhaps Montgomerie would have been included among those delivering warm messages to Lyle to a 550-strong crowd in a Glasgow city centre hotel on Friday. Alas, even compared to Rory McIlroy, Lyle is in a class of his own when it comes to being open and honest at times.
Instead of being dragged away by his manager, who was sitting right beside him, he only made matters worse by effectively sticking by his original comments and adding fuel to the fire. “A very strange apology,” admitted Montgomerie, who was furious that his preparations for the event had been disrupted in such a way. Not long appointed as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for the 2010 match in Wales, he was still spitting feathers at the end of the week.
If, as seems likely, Montgomerie is never going to forgive Lyle, then that’s a great pity. Langer, along with Bernard Gallacher, said Lyle was “out of order” four years ago, yet no-one was more praiseworthy of the big man in his offering on Friday night than the usually stoical German.
We all do things we regret in life. Indeed, Montgomerie and Lyle both have crosses to bear over the matter that seems to have torn them apart. It would be nice, though, to think that, like his good friend Langer, Montgomerie might just let bygones be bygones when the pair become playing rivals again later this year on the Senior circuit.
It’s high time, meanwhile, that the European Tour put Lyle out of his misery by telling him that, sadly, it’s now too late in his career to get the Ryder Cup captaincy he deserved long before now – 14 years ago, in fact, when the post was handed instead to Englishman Mark James.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, his optimism has been renewed by the Americans appointing Tom Watson at the age of 63 for next year’s match at Gleneagles but, in some respects, that’s almost an act of desperation by the PGA of America on the back of five defeats in the last seven matches.
Europe made the correct decision in appointing Paul McGinley for the Perthshire joust, but it would be fitting if George O’Grady, the European Tour chief executive, set the wheels in motion to appoint Lyle as the event’s offical ambassador and get him involved in all sorts of pre-publicity for the keenly-anticipated contest.
Turning back to Scottish golf’s Oscars night, it was a perfect illustration of how popular the Royal & Ancient game is with so many of those involved in football. Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, a category winner in last year’s Silverknowes Seniors Open, presented an award, as did Jim Jefferies and Craig Gordon, the former still hurting from a 7 and 6 defeat at Dunbar a couple of days previously despite carding a gross 76. I know from experience that his regular Wednesday game is a tough school.
Aberdeen manager Craig Brown, another well-known golfing enthusiast, was also there to pick up the Player of the Year Award on behalf of Lawrie, who regularly pops into Pittodrie for a cuppa with Brown and his assistant, Archie Knox, when he’s not traipsing around the world.
All in all, a night masterfully handled by Dougie Donnelly was a wonderful celebration of a memorable 2012 campaign for Scottish golf and a nice reminder how things have picked up since nothing but doom and gloom seemed to be spouted about the game in the home of golf in the not too distant past.