AS Sandy Lyle celebrated becoming Britain’s first Masters champion with a little jig on the 18th green at Augusta, a teenager in the Aberdeenshire village of Kemnay was jumping up and down in delirious delight on his bed.
Paul Lawrie had placed a bet on Lyle to win back in 1988 and now, 25 years on, he’s thrilled to be joining his fellow Scot in marking one of European golf’s greatest moments.
“When Sandy won the Masters, I watched it in my bedroom at home,” recalled Lawrie. “I’d been an assistant pro at Banchory for 18 months at the time and was still living with my mum and dad in Kemnay. I had a wee bet on him because he had won Greensboro the week before. I don’t remember how much I had on him to win, but I did have a few quid on.
“I don’t remember if I bought myself something nice with my winnings, it was a long time ago. I just remember having that bet and, in the final round, he kind of gave it away a wee bit but he then came back to win it.”
When Lyle received a lifetime achievement award in Glasgow last month, Lawrie was among those who heaped effusive praise on the man who’d also won the Open Championship at Royal St George’s three years prior to his memorable Masters moment.
“For me, Sandy is the greatest Scottish golfer,” declared Lawrie. “When you’ve got two majors, three Order of Merits and six wins in America, I think that trumps any other for me. He’s won the World Matchplay, TPC, The Open and Masters – that’s a huge career, so he is by far the best modern-day Scottish golfer in my eyes.”
Lawrie first played with Lyle in a practice round for the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield and, along with many others, including the great Seve Ballesteros, was soon in awe of his fellow Scot’s prowess with a 1-iron on his hands.
“I played a practice round with Sandy, Ian Woosnam and Michael Welsh,” recalled the Aberdonian. “It was my first year on Tour and I put my name beside the three of them. I think Woosie was helping Michael a bit because they are from the same sort of area [in Shropshire]. So, when we got on the first tee Woosie said to Sandy, ‘I’ll take Michael and you take Paul and we had a wee game.
“It was good fun and for a guy on his first year on Tour it was fantastic to be playing with Woosie, who had won The Masters the year before, and Sandy had two majors obviously. They had no idea obviously who I was but they made me feel so comfortable, they were brilliant.
“Sandy and Woosie have always been fantastic throughout my time on tour. They’re just normal guys, good lads. I had no hesitation in paying trbute to Sandy when he received his lifetime achievement award but it’s a pity they cut out the bit when I said that ‘if he hits that 1-iron past my driver once more, I swear I’m going to throttle him!”
A shorter club will be required when Lyle lends his support to a fund-raising day Lawrie is holding at Skibo Castle for his Foundation on the Monday of this year’s Aberdeen Asset Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. “Sandy has offered to stand on a par-3 all day and hit a shot with every group that comes through,” said the organiser. “I’ll do one hole on the back nine and he’ll cover one on the front nine.”
Compared to Lyle, who is making his 31st appearance in the event, Lawrie is a Masters novice. This is his seventh appearance, having been forced to sit at home in Aberdeen and watch the season’s opening major on TV for seven years before a rejuvenation in his career earned a return trip up Magnolia Lane 12 months ago.
“Augusta is just a great place,” he said. “I hadn’t been there for a long time before last year. I had [wife] Marian and [youngest son] Michael with me then and they’ll both be there again this year. You drive up Magnolia Lane and it just one of those places. It has always been very special, so it was really nice to go back again last year.
“The last time I played Augusta before last year, the seventh hole was a 4-iron and a lob wedge. When I went back it was a driver and a 3-iron in the first round. I don’t know how much they’ve lengthened it by, but it must be something like 80 to 100 yards on that hole.
“That green wasn’t built for a 3 or 4-iron, more a wedge or 9-iron maximum. To hit 3-iron in there off a downslope is difficult. I don’t think people realise watching it on the television, some of the shots you have got to hit round there, it is pretty tough.”
Playing some of the best golf of his career at the time, the 44-year-old followed an opening 69 last year with a brace of 72s before closing with a 76 to finish in a tie for 24th – his second best effort in the event after the 15th spot he secured ten years ago.
“I had played beautifully all week until the final round, when I was in the top ten teeing off and played with Lee Westwood,” he recalled. “My short game was magnificent and I even chipped in a couple of times in the first round. Then, all of a sudden, I missed a few short ones on the Sunday and shot 76. Lee, on the other hand, played just magnificently – it was an exhibition from tee to green.”
The Englishman carded a 68 to finish joint-third as Buba Watson beat Louis Oosthuizen in a play-off to claim the Green Jacket. “I felt I was chopping it and he was ripping it,” added Lawrie. “But I’ll go back with good feelings and just hope to play better on the Sunday.”
While Rory McIlroy has been frantically trying to get as many competitive rounds under his belt before this week, Lawrie hasn’t hit a blow in anger since finishing the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami almost a month ago.
“Four weeks off before a major could be a bit of an issue for a few players, but I’m always swinging a club or hitting a ball, so it will not make any difference to my performance,” he insisted. “For someone who feels that four weeks is a long time off, they could get there and panic a little bit. But I’ve been doing it for a long time.”
During his lay-off, Lawrie has been receiving treatment for a niggling back injury. He’s confident that won’t be a problem this week. He also believes the undulating greens won’t be either, even though his putting so far this year has been “diabolical”.
“I’ve played six times at the Masters and each time I’ve putted magnificently,” he said. “My stroke is quite long and slow, so when the greens are fast I normally hole my fair share, even more than my fair share. I struggle when the greens are either slow or grainy. But, when I can just stand up and roll a putt, I normally do well and, as well as being a second-shot golf course, that’s what The Masters is all about.”