Sandy Lyle spent his first day as Masters champion handing out swing tips to a fellow Scot for two hours and then summed up his modesty about becoming the first British player to pull on a Green Jacket by barely talking about that historic success the following week.
Ken Brown, who now prowls the Augusta National fairways for his “Ken on the Course” insights for the BBC at the season’s opening major, was the only other Scot in the field in 1988 as Lyle produced his memorable 7-iron shot from a fairway bunker at the last then rolled in a tricky downhill birdie putt to win by a stroke from Mark Calcavecchia, pictured.
It was Brown’s one and only appearance in the event, having secured his spot through winning the Southern Open on the PGA Tour the previous year, and he was delighted to see Lyle become a two-time major winner that week after the pair had come through the amateur ranks together.
“I remember a few things about the week,” Brown told The Scotsman. “We stayed in the Holiday Inn in Augusta, which was a noisy hotel, and in those days they used to have a dinner for the overseas players in the clubhouse and I remember picking up Sandy, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo.
“We had Cadillacs that had been given to us for the week and I remember driving to the club with all these star players. I was chauffeur, probably because I wasn’t bothered about having a drink and they’d be having a couple of glasses of wine at dinner.
“On the way to the course, there was another Cadillac in front and the lads said to me that I should give it a nudge when we were stopped at traffic lights. We all knew that it was Rodger Davis (the Australian who won seven times on the European Tour) who was driving it. He didn’t do anything at first but when I nudged him again – a bit harder this time – at the next set of lights he got out like a mad axeman.
“As for later in the week, I was still at the club when Sandy won and was so pleased for him. It was the next breakthrough for European golf after Seve Ballesteros had become the first European to triumph in 1980, then won again three years later before being joined on the list of champions by Bernhard Langer in 1985. After Sandy won, Woosie and Faldo also triumphed soon afterwards. It was a classic case of them seeing him do it and believing they could, too.”
These days, the new Masters champion finds himself heading to New York for a series of television interviews and a photo session wearing the Green Jacket at one of the many famous landmarks in that city. That wasn’t the drill 30 years ago.
“It might have been the next day but I think it was the Sunday night that Sandy and I drove to Hilton Head for the next week’s event in our Cadillacs,” recalled Brown, who shot a 69 in the third round before ending up tied for 36th behind Lyle at Augusta. “We actually shared an apartment that week and, on the Monday, we went out and hit a few balls. He didn’t hit many actually before he helped me with my swing for two hours.
“He had little swing secrets in his mind that would be working for him and he wanted to see if they would work for someone else. That tells you everything about Sandy. He’d just become Masters champion but didn’t hit a ball himself and was trying to help me hit it better.
“You can’t imagine any other Masters champion doing that. But that’s how he is. He’s the generous kind and such an easy-going fellow. He was such a modest man and, though I was desperate to ask him so many questions, he didn’t really go on too much about winning the Masters. I was – and still am – very fond of him.”
Given everything he achieved in the game – his successes also included the Players Championship, the so-called fifth major, and he spent nearly 170 consecutive weeks in the world’s top 10 – it is widely regarded as one of the injustices in European golf that Lyle never got an opportunity to be Ryder Cup captain.
“Has he got the credit he deserved? Probably not, because he has never craved it or chased it,” observed Brown, who will be joining Peter Alliss, Andrew Cotter and winning US Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger on the BBC commentary team at this year’s event.
“Someone like Gary Player, for example, has always put himself about in the media. Sandy was never interested in that. He’s a different character.
“He’s probably never got the kudos he deserved in the non-golfing public eye. I can remember when I thought it must be Sandy’s turn to be Ryder Cup captain and I talked to him about that on a few occasions.
“He said, ‘Ken, I can go home and I’ve got my Claret Jug on the fireplace and my Green Jacket in the cupboard. As much as I’d love to do it, it is not going to change anything if I don’t do it. I’ve achieved the ultimate in golf, really’. Fair play to him.”