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Player Feature

Sandy Lyle


The story of The 1985 Open

Sandy Lyle with the Claret Jug

After just four years away from Sandwich, The Open made a swift return to the Kent coastline and Royal St George’s for the 114th edition of golf’s original major championship. 

There had been no British winner of The Open since Tony Jacklin in 1969, no Scottish major winner since Tommy Armour in 1931 – that was until Sandy Lyle came along. 

Bernhard Langer had retained his memory of the course from his runner-up finish in 1981 and was tied for the lead with Australian David Graham after three rounds. 

American Tom Kite was also in contention during the final round as he surged up the leaderboard during his front nine but a double-bogey at the 10th soon extinguished his challenge. 

Enter Scotland’s Lyle, who had been waiting in the wings and biding his time until back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th sparked his Championship into life as he took the lead. 

A fluffed chip on the last made it a nail-biting finish but Lyle’s score of two-over-par was enough to make him the first Briton to lift the Claret Jug in 16 years.  

The old new driver trick

In the build up to The Open in 1985 Lyle was struggling for form and decided to opt for a hand-me-down driver from not just one, but two other golfers. 

And the story that Lyle tells about how he acquired the club he used to drive in his first-ever major victory highlights how far the game has come from a time when it took two days to get your driver re-shafted. 

Sandy Lyle Claret Jug 1985

He also moved his schedule around in order to fit in a few extra events – which clearly paid off. 

"That week I got a new driver - well, it was new to me,” he said. 

“It was an old McGregor driver that had been passed down from Eamonn Darcy, who couldn't hit it, to Ian Woosnam, who couldn't hit it either, so I adopted it and re-shafted it.

"The experience of driving the ball a little tidier gave me a bit of hope. 

“If you can drive the ball well at the Open, particularly round Royal St George's, then it's half the battle. I drove it well all week and that really spurred me on."

Keeping in touch with the leaders

In the last year The Open featured the double-cut, after 36 holes and 54 holes, Lyle was competing at the top of the leaderboard from the very off – opening with a two-under 68 to sit in a five-way tie for second.

A one-over 71 on Friday saw him move up into the joint lead with Graham after overnight leader Christy O’Connor Jnr struggled to replicate his impressive opening round of 64, which broke Henry Cotton's record for St George's.

Lyle struggled on the Saturday, though, and entered the final 18 three shots behind leaders Graham and Langer on two-over-par alongside O’Connor, Mark O’Meara and Ian Woosnam. 

Kite took the lead after the front nine but swiftly blew his chances on the 10th while Payne Stewart made his own late bid for the Claret Jug and sat in the clubhouse on three-over. 

Enter Lyle, who had been lying dormant waiting to spring his challenge as the men ahead of him on the leaderboard began to struggle under the heat of the competition. 

"After the 15th hole I really started to realise that I was close,” Lyle recalled. “I had a one-shot lead then it was a survival game in the last three holes.”

The stars finally align for Lyle

"The heartbeat goes up a few ticks but I know what's ahead of me,” said Lyle. “I'm pretty good at that. I'm low key. I had a good caddie in Dave Musgrove who said the right thing at the right time. 

“It's all about the last three holes and I need to get in. I made a five-footer for par on 16, then on 17, a nightmare hole. I gave myself five feet for par again and made that one, too."

The stars seemed to have aligned for Lyle but a fluffed chip on the 18th gave him two putts to leapfrog Stewart in the clubhouse with a closing round of 70. 

“You've gone through 71 holes of torture and you don't want to let it slip through your fingers,” he said. “The lie by the 18th green wasn't good and I could barely see the ball. 

“It was a risky shot and I had to get it close for a four. 

“I knew if I can get in the clubhouse on one-over, I would have a chance of being in a play-off. I didn't know that Langer and Graham were behind me having trouble on 16.”

It was then a case of sitting back and waiting to see if his score was enough but with neither Langer nor Graham able to force a play-off, Lyle was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year. 

“I thought I'd probably lost it by one,” he said. “I'd have been happy for a play-off given a chance. I waited for about 35 minutes and four seconds for Bernhard and David to finish. 

“It was a day that changed my life. I've got it on VHS tape. I'll watch it the odd bit here and there. It's nice to be reminded of it.”