SANDY Lyle rounded off his silver jubilee celebrations with a spot of babysitting. The 1988 winner had Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old Chinese player, for company in the final round.
It was a measure of the impact Guan had made here, becoming the youngest player to make the cut in a major, that most eyes were on him rather than a two-times major winner.
Lyle sported a bright green top for the occasion. It matched the colour of Guan’s snazzy driver shaft. His opening swing with that left him way left in the trees. Lyle split the fairway, hit his approach to ten feet and rolled in the putt for an opening birdie.
“Take that, you little upstart,” was the thought that sprang to the mind of this onlooker as a smile creased the 55-year-old’s face.
Lyle soon knew he would have to keep making birdies to get recognition from the sizeable gallery. Whereas Guan’s shot from just off the fairway at the second, which was hardly spectacular, earned warm applause, Lyle’s blow from almost the same spot almost went unrecognised.
Lyle’s main Tour career had already petered out when Guan was born. He had enjoyed the company of Ben Crenshaw, twice Masters champion, earlier in the week, though, and a Sunday stroll with Sandy looked as though it was proving likewise.
“He was a nice pleasant guy and we had a good little chit-chat on the way around,” reported the babysitter. “He was asking if I’m playing much golf and I said, ‘yeah, I’m playing on the Champions Tour’.”
Both produced some decent golf, sharing seven birdies between them. Both made a 2 at the 16th. Lyle was round in 71 for 297; Guan 75 for 300. If it had been matchplay, the older campaigner would have won 3 and 2.
“I think he had a good knowledge on what was going on,” said Lyle in reply to being asked if Guan knew about the significance of this week to the Scot. “I think it was exciting for him and I think he was quite surprised how well the old farts can play.”
Still capable of giving his driver a mighty whack, Lyle outdrove his playing partner most of the way round. If they share the same stage again in this event in the near future, however, he expects to be the one hitting first into greens.
“It was very interesting to see him play,” he added. “He hits the ball quite a reasonable distance at the moment and remember he’s only 14. In another three years you’ll probably see a huge difference in his length.”
There is certainly a big difference in terms of build between the wafer-thin Guan – God only knows how he would cope on a windy day at an Open Championship – and Lyle’s youngest son, Quintin, an 18-year-old who stands at 6ft 7in.
Twice in Amen Corner, Guan showed a deft touch to get up and down from just off the green. It had been the same most of the way round. “His short game is very good – and that’s a nice thing to have,” observed Lyle. “There’s a lot of people that can play really well, but they haven’t got a very good short game and they’re relying on the long game to carry them through. But he seems very tidy at the short game and his putting is very tidy as well.
“He’s on the right track. He’s not got a textbook swing right now. But I’m sure that will be ironed out in the next few years.
“I don’t think there was a shot really I could say, ‘wow, that was showing some signs of maturity’. But, if he can stay untouched with too many teachers and just play his natural game, I think he’ll be in good shape.”
With its pause midway through the backswing, Lyle’s swing certainly isn’t of the textbook variety these days. Apart from a third-round 81, however, he gave a pretty good account of himself on his 32nd appearance here. “I think that I would have been very happy to make the cut at the start of the week. But, when I played on Sunday, I went round in three-under with six birdies and three bogeys,” he said.
“That sort of gave me a little bit of hope. I didn’t get off to a great start in the first round but got back to level-par then had a good solid second round.
“The third day just didn’t work out – I was on the wrong side of the pin a few times and it gets messy real quick – but today, when making a birdie at the first that was an encouragement, I was a little tidier.”
Next time he picks up a club in anger, Lyle will not be made to feel nearly so old.
“I’m back to the old farts next week on a frigging long golf course as well as Sugarloaf [in the Greater Gwinnet Championship on the Champions Tour],” he sighed.
For Guan, his return to China could be put on hold after receiving some invitations on the back of his remarkable performance here.
“It’s such a great week for me,” admitted the event’s leading amateur. “I’ve enjoyed and also learned a lot.”