Sandy Lyle at 61
“Sandy was the greatest God-given talent in history. If everyone in the world was playing their best, Sandy would win and I'd come second.”
Those are the words of none other than three-time Champion Golfer of the Year Seve Ballesteros when asked how highly he rated Sandy Lyle.
Lyle – a Champion Golfer of the year in 1985 and a Green Jacket winner three years after that – more than likely played his final Open when he teed it up at Carnoustie last year.
The Scottish legend celebrates his 61st birthday on February 9, meaning he is no longer exempt for The Open and will now have to qualify.
But for a decade in the 1980s, Lyle and Europe’s Big Five including Ballesteros, Sir Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer cut a swathe through world golf.
Destined for greatness
The son of a golf professional, Alex, the Lyle family moved south of the border from Scotland when Sandy was still a toddler.
But at Hawkstone Park golf course, Lyle began to make his first strides towards greatness, with his father unsurprisingly a huge influence.
“Even yet, every time I pick up a club I can hear his voice in my ear repeating the mantra, 'Tempo not temper'."
At schoolboy, junior and amateur level, Lyle represented England and as an amateur – making his Open Championship debut in 1974 while still only 16.
But his love affair with The Open runs even deeper than that – he was in the crowd at the 18th at Royal Lytham & St Annes when Tony Jacklin lifted the Claret Jug and threw his ball into the grandstand.
Lyle was not the lucky recipient in the crowd of Jacklin’s winning ball but soon he was creating history of his own.
"I woke up at 1am with one eye on the alarm clock and then the mind starts to go about the opening shot." – Sandy Lyle on that first tee shot— The Open (@TheOpen) July 19, 2018
👉 https://t.co/yiTv92O5Fu #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/XkUXEBYElz
After a stunning breakthrough after turning pro in 1977, he won the Sir Henry Cotton Award as European Rookie of the year.
And from 1979 he began to dominate on both sides of the Atlantic as European golfers redressed the balance following the Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer years of dominance.
Royal St George’s
But despite multiple successes on both the European and PGA Tours, Lyle had to wait until 1985 for his first major success.
It was fitting however, that it came at The Open as Lyle became the first Briton since his hero Jacklin all those years ago to win it all.
He held off Payne Stewart by a shot having started the final day three off the lead but came from behind to claim a stunning victory as Bernhard Langer and David Graham collapsed down the back nine.
Birdies at 14 and 15 proved vital for Lyle who could even afford to duff a chip on the last and hold on for a one-shot win.
But if The Open win put him on the map, he became a household name with victory at Augusta three years later.
In the meantime he had become the first European to win the Players Championship in 1987 but it was at the Masters he cemented his legacy.
His magnificent bunker shot on 18 allowed him to become the first Briton to wear the Green Jacket.
That would turn out to be the pinnacle of Lyle’s career as he would record just one more top-10 finish in a major and four more European Tour wins, the last of which coming in 1992.
Ryder Cup star
Lyle was also a member of five European Ryder Cup teams, from 1979-1987.
In that time he helped Europe claim a famous win over the Americans at the Belfry in 1985 and then two years later go one better and win for the first time on American soil at Muirfield Village.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, the Perthshire native's appearance at Carnoustie last year for The 147th Open may well be the last time he contests for the Claret Jug.
But no one will ever forget the man who, when on form, even Ballesteros felt he could not match at the top of his game.