SANDY Lyle waltzed into the ballroom at the Hilton hotel in Glasgow last night to a standing ovation as he received a lifetime achievement award at the Scottish Golf Dinner.
It was a far bigger celebration than he enjoyed the night he became the first British player to win the US Masters in 1988.
“I had a few drinks with the Augusta members at the winner’s dinner on the Sunday night then, after having some time to myself back at the hotel, I decided to go down to the bar around 10.30pm to celebrate,” he mused. “It had been noisy there all week with parties and discos and I said to myself, ‘let’s have some fun’.”
Unfortunately for him, there was no-one there to have any fun with and sip champagne. “I remember getting down there, opening the door and almost saying, ‘hello guys, I’m here’, but there was no-one there. So it wasn’t until the Monday night that I was able to celebrate my win properly.”
If anyone deserves a lifetime achievement in Scottish golf, then surely it is Lyle. The win at Augusta came three years after he also became Open champion at Royal St George’s and, of all the players Seve Ballesteros crossed swords with in his career, Lyle was the one that probably earned most respect from the great Spaniard. It’s one of European golf’s embarrassments that the Scot has not received the honour of holding the Ryder Cup captaincy and, despite refusing to give up on that dream himself, especially after 63-year-old Tom Watson’s appointment by the Americans for next year’s match at Gleneagles, it seems unlikely he will ever hold that post.
However, Lyle will forever occupy a special place in the hearts of the Scottish golfing public and, even now on the Champions Tour in America, where he now plays most of his golf, there is rarely a day that passes by without someone recalling his famous 7-iron from a fairway bunker that set up a Green Jacket-winning birdie at the 72nd hole at Augusta National.
“There hasn’t been a year that has passed in the last 25 that I’ve not enjoyed that moment,” he said, smiling. “I wasn’t comfortable as I walked up to the bunker, as I was worried I might not be able to get my second shot on to the green. However, the lie wasn’t just clean, it was also on an elevated lie. If it had been two-and-a-half feet shorter, I’d probably have had to play out sideways with a 9-iron. I’ve hit some good shots in my career but, given what that one meant at the time, I’d probably say it was the best shot I’ve produced.”
After coaxing his birdie putt down the slope into the hole, Lyle celebrated with a little dance of his feet. It was all he could muster at the end of a gruelling event, which came on the back of him winning a play-off in the Greater Greensboro Open seven days earlier.
“It was meant to be a somersault but I had no legs left so it was more of a jiggle,” he recalled of his celebration. “I could distinctly feel the pressure of the whole week draining out of my shoulders. I could probably have slumped down on the ground like a blob and been happy lying there for a few hours.”
The trusty 7-iron is currently housed at St Augustine in Florida, home of golf’s Hall of Fame, which Lyle was inducted into last year. “Anyone who came to my house wanted to see it or the Green Jacket,” he said of those treasured mementoes. “The way I won was good theatre, though not for me at the time, and it is etched on a lot of people’s minds. Indeed, most weeks in America I still get reminded about it.”
In just over a month’s time, Lyle will be heading back up Magnolia Drive to make his 31st appearance in the season’s opening major. “I just like to enjoy it as much as possible,” he replied to being asked what his expectations are these days.
“I still feel I am long enough for that course – just. I don’t think I am capable of winning but, then again, Tom Watson came close to pulling it off in The Open at nearly 60 so you can never say ‘no’. I gave a good account of myself three years ago, finishing 20th or so, and I still think I have a few years left.”
Lyle will be joined at Augusta early next month by Paul Lawrie, who topped a Scottish Golf Union poll to win the Player of the Year Award last night, when Stephen Gallacher picked up the Shot of the Year prize at the glitzy ceremony hosted by Dougie Donnelly.
Other winners were: Amateur Golfer – Jack McDonald. SLGA Girls Order of Merit – Jessica Meek. Team – Scottish Men’s. SGU Seniors Order of Merit – David Gardner. SGU Boys Order of Merit – Ewan Scott. SLGA Ladies Order of Merit – Laura Murray. SGU Men’s Order of Merit – Scott Borrowman. Junior Club of the Year – Strathendrick. Volunteer of the Year – Shirley Murray. Adam Hunter Award – Lauren Whyte.