Lyle reflects on his PLAYERS triumph, 25 years laterScotland's Sandy Lyle was the first international winner of THE PLAYERS, in 1987.April 26, 2012
Phil Stambaugh, Champions Tour staff
Sandy Lyle will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame during the week of the 2012 PLAYERS Championship, 25 years after his own triumph at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. The Scotsman -- the first international winner of THE PLAYERS -- sat down with Phil Stambaugh of the Champions Tour recently in Savannah, Ga., to reflect on the win, the Hall of Fame and who might win THE PLAYERS 25 years after he did.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: What do you remember most about your victory there at TPC Sawgrass in 1987? I think you made a long putt at 18 and then Jeff (Sluman) made a putt as well or you would have had a pretty large playoff, but as it turned out, it was just you two, right?
SANDY LYLE: It was just the two of us, yeah. There was a few little trigger points and I think I turned around on 15, towards the end. I'm lying probably about third or fourth at the time and it was important that I get up and down from the back of the green at 15, and I did that, holed the chip shot for a 3. That really gave me a little bit of hope that maybe if I can birdie the next hole and perhaps finish par-birdie or something like that and it might get me in the top three, which I was more excited about. I wasn't even dreaming about winning the tournament, because I was already in the clubhouse probably for a good hour or more before the last group. As it turned out, everybody else sort of fell by the wayside and I ended up in a playoff with Sluman.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: What do you remember about the playoff in particular. There was a situation with a fan and it was a little bit odd the way it turned out. Correct??
SANDY LYLE: Yes. It all happened on the 17th hole. It was starting to get dark and Jeff hit a nice shot to about six to eight feet with about a foot and a half of break to the putt. It wasn't a pushover. I had made a solid par and it was really up to Jeff to make the putt if he wanted to win the tournament right there. Just as he was getting prepared to hit the putt, a local jumped in the water which created a bit of a havoc and I think he was whisked off quite quickly. Sluman sort of withdrew from his putt and then went back down to it again, and then as we know, he missed the putt. He might have missed it anyway, we'll never now but it was a distraction. I'm not sure what spurred the fan to jump in the water right at that time.
So we moved on to the 18th hole, and by this time, it was getting very, very dark. I can remember trying to hit my second shot into virtual darkness and I couldn't really see the green or even the flag. All I could do was line up on the lights in the background behind the green. That to me was probably more of a horrendous feeling of doubt in your mind, not knowing where the ball's going with a 5-iron in my hand. As it turned out, the ball ended up just off the back of the green, which was no harm done, and Slu was there, too. I got up and down and he didn't so it was game, set and match for Lyle.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: It was the first playoff in the tournament's history at the Stadium course. Had you been involved in many playoffs in tournaments before that??
SANDY LYLE: I had probably been in six or seven playoffs prior to that and I had reasonable success. I remember losing a playoff at the Bob Hope to Steve Jones but I also won a playoff at the Nigerian Open and a playoff at the Phoenix Open against Fred Couples. Probably my biggest up to that point was winning the Lancome Trophy in a playoff with Seve Ballesteros.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: You were also the first international winner of THE PLAYERS, and since your victory, 11 more PLAYERS Championships have been won by 10 different international players, including the last four champions. Did you see something like that happening at the Stadium course after your win??
SANDY LYLE: It was very hard to really see down the future. The Stadium course doesn't really favor a particular style of winners. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two long hitters, have won there but so has Fred Funk and Tim Clark who are shorter hitters. I know Steve Elkington won it twice and Nick Price also won it and they are very good ballstrikers. Generally, I think what is important is controlling the ball flight. You know there's going to be wind and because the landing areas are very small, you must control the ball flight to get near the pins.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: THE PLAYERS is now one of the biggest tournaments in the world and has risen in stature since your victory in 1987. Did you ever envision when you won that it would become the important tournament that it has become in the world of golf??
SANDY LYLE: Well, we knew really for many years that they were really pushing to make it a big tournament. You know, big prize money, big field, and they've achieved that. They've got a golf course that is well known throughout the world and it's just a wonderful setting there with the big clubhouse behind the 18th green.
What was very important to me obviously was when I won THE PLAYERS, I got a 10-year exemption and that was huge for me. At the time, I was playing in Europe as well and that victory took a lot of pressure off me. I was able to relax, knowing that if I did manage to have a few down years, I didn't have to worry. I could still tee it up the following year and away we go. Having that 10-year exemption, you couldn't put a price on that in my career.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: This is obviously going to be a special PLAYERS week for you with your induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday night of tournament week. Talk about that??
SANDY LYLE: I will finally rest easy when I'm signed in, as you would say. I would think it's like a marriage, you know, if anybody contests, you start voting against it or something. So I'll feel happy when I've signed the paper and I'm officially in the World Golf Hall of Fame. I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to see a lot of friends I haven't seen for quite a few years and I'll listen to the speeches from Peter Alliss and Phil Mickelson. I hope I'll also be able to make a good speech and I also want to be a good customer for the World Golf Hall of Fame.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: You live part of the year near the TPC Sawgrass and have played the Stadium course numerous times over the last 25 years. How has the course changed over the years and how do you think it was play for this year's PLAYERS??
SANDY LYLE: Well, I think in 1987 when I won, the course was fairly similar to what it is now. I know they changed a few tees, but the grasses are virtually the same. I think there's probably more shotmaking now because if your ball does roll off the green, it's in a closely-mown area and many times you can use a putter to get the ball back on the green. That wasn't really available when the course was first built and when I won.
The Stadium course is a little longer today and it's in great condition. I really think moving the event to May really helped with the course conditon. We've had a very good spring this year, so I would imagine that the greens will be very, very fast for this year's event.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Do you have a prediction for me??
SANDY LYLE: I think Keegan Bradley would be one to watch out for. He got the taste of performing well under pressure last year at the PGA Championship. Luke Donald is still a very strong contender and of course, there's Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. There's a lot of good ones now. It's quite fascinating really. It's not just one or two players these days.