Carnoustie in July should see former Masters champion Sandy Lyle wave a fond farewell to The Open Championship once and for all but the Perthshire golfer has other ideas, writes Sportsbeat, 0870 445 0156
Lyle turns 60 in February; meaning the 1985 winner of the Open will be exempt for the final time when the event is held at Carnoustie this summer.
However, the 59-year-old is refusing to rule out a shock return to a championship he loves and knows so well – he has played at 42 Open tournaments since his debut in 1974 – with victory at the Senior Open, qualifying next year or a top-ten finish in Carnoustie in July offering him the unlikeliest of returns to the summit of world golf in 2019.
As part of a unique marketing partnership ahead of Carnoustie between the 147th Open and Scottish Rugby, two of Scotland’s sporting heroes, Lyle and Gavin Hastings met to discuss their memories of the famous tournament.
The 147th Open will be Lyle’s 43rd appearance at golf’s oldest major. Only Gary Player has played more with 46 appearances and whilst Lyle recognises that he may not match Player’s record of achievements, he is keen to try.
“There are opportunities to get into The Open through the Seniors Tour or by Qualifying,” said Lyle. “I’m not embarrassed to go and try to qualify. I will be working hard to keep my game in reasonable shape.
“Tom [Watson] was one week off sixty and almost pulled The Open [Turnberry 2009] off. That should tell you it’s possible.
“It’s going to be a memorable last week at The Open. I’m going to have to wear two hats: the serious side as far as competing and I’m going to have to be the Father and the Granddad as well.
Growing up close to Royal Birkdale, Lyle attended The Open in 1969 at Royal Lytham & St Annes and reminisced about how he almost caught the ball of Champion Golfer Tony Jacklin. Little did anybody know that Lyle would become the next Briton to win The Open 16 years later. And having arrived at Royal Lytham & St Annes as a 16-year-old amateur to play in his first Open – he is now second in appearances at this great old tournament.
“I was born into golf,” said Lyle – his father was a club professional and The Open has always been a part of his life.
Lyle first competed at Carnoustie in The Open in 1999 when Paul Lawrie became the first Scot to win the Claret Jug since Lyle in 1985. “It was just a tough, tough week” said Lyle reflecting on 1999.
Asked about his thoughts on Carnoustie, he said: “You’ve got to play well at Carnoustie and you’ve got to be smart as well.
“When you get to the middle of the round there are some opportunities coming your way. But you know you have to hold on to those because those finishing holes can be an absolute nightmare.”
In the six years prior to 1985, Lyle finished in the top 20 five times. But he insisted he didn’t go into what would be his career-defining week with any expectations after a missed cut at his previous event.
On a difficult final round at Royal St George’s, Lyle admitted that he “just kept surviving”. Birdies on 14 and 15 were instrumental in his success.
“The crowd were very supportive. When I made that putt at 15, it was so loud,” he added.
Despite a bogey at 18, Lyle became the first British player to win The Open since Tony Jacklin in 1969. But he admitted that he couldn’t enjoy the immediate aftermath after finishing his round:
“You can’t get too excited because you think to yourself you could be in a play-off situation. I thought, maybe, I’d possibly lose out by a shot.”
When asked about how it feels to be an Open Champion Lyle said: “It’s something you live with until your dying days. You will always be known as ‘Champion Golfer’. That’s something that keeps your spirits high.”
Champion Golfer Sandy Lyle was promoting the Early Bird tickets to The 147th Open which are available now at TheOpen.com/Tickets.