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Sarah Ballard
July 10, 1989
In Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle, the ancestral home of golf once more has not one but two of the world's preeminent players
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July 10, 1989

Britannia Rules Again

In Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle, the ancestral home of golf once more has not one but two of the world's preeminent players

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Because Lyle is affable and approachable, and perhaps because he can laugh at a joke on himself, he has an easy time with the British press. He can make a sly crack about Faldo now and then, and get away with it. He remains good old guileless Sandy.

Faldo's relations with not only the press but also the public and other golfers have a thorny history. Things he did and said when he was a brash, impatient newcomer are still held against him in some quarters. He insisted on a single room so his sleep would not be disturbed, when other players were doubling up. He is said to have boasted that his putting stroke would one day win the British Open. Those do not seem capital offenses in a young and singularly determined athlete, but they haven't been forgotten.

Marriage, fatherhood, success and a maturing sense of responsibility have smoothed Faldo's abrasive exterior in recent years. Since winning the British Open, he has worked at being more patient, at suffering fools, if not gladly, at least civilly. But one or two writers still snarl at him in print in a manner unimaginable to an American sports-page reader. When Faldo won the Masters, a column in the Sunday Mirror began, "Nicholas Alexander Faldo, MBE, began life in a small terraced house in Welwyn Garden City. Sadly, it remains quite big enough to stage the party when our U.S. Masters champion comes home in his green jacket. The friends of Faldo are few." And that was only the beginning.

Comparisons of Faldo and Lyle have been inevitable, and Faldo's role as the heavy goes back at least to 1980, when they were Britain's two best young players. That year, at the Kenya Open, Faldo reported Lyle for a rules infraction, which resulted in Lyle's being disqualified. On the 2nd hole of a round in which they were paired, Lyle had placed a piece of tape along the head of his putter because the glare of the sun on the metal was distracting him. In doing so, according to the determination of the tournament committee, he had altered the playing characteristics of the club during a round, in violation of the rules.

Faldo could have, and probably should have, spoken to Lyle when he first noticed the tape, giving Lyle the chance to remove it. Instead, Faldo reported it to an official after nine holes. His action did not go down well with everyone. When Brian Barnes, another British pro, met Faldo in the clubhouse later, Barnes said, "Well, that's a nice thing to do to a fellow professional."

Lyle and Faldo have always eyed each other carefully. In recalling the first time he saw Faldo, Lyle said, "He had a long, fancy swing, and he was a bit unpredictable." Lyle had a big edge in experience over Faldo. He played his first tournament when he was 11; Faldo didn't pick up a club until he was nearly 14.

Lyle could swallow defeat; Faldo used to choke on it. Twice at the World Match Play Championship, the showpiece of the European season, Faldo and Lyle have gone head-to-head for 36 holes. Both occasions were treated like heavyweight title fights in Britain, and both times Lyle was the winner. In 1982, they met in the first round. Faldo was six holes up on Lyle after the first 18, having played the last seven holes in five under par. During the break between 18s, Lyle, "trying to make a game of it," he said, changed putters, and by the 4th hole he had cut Faldo's lead to three. Faldo was still one up with nine to play, but Lyle went ahead at the 13th, and at the 17th, with his eighth birdie, he won the match 2 and 1.

The loss would have been crushing to Faldo no matter who administered it. That it was Lyle only magnified the pain. Later Faldo said, "There are some defeats that take a long time to get over. That was one of them, because you begin to question your ability."

Off the course Faldo and Lyle are friendly in the manner of old schoolmates at a reunion who were not really friends. Lyle has never seen even the outside of Faldo's house in neighboring Ascot, though it is only a few minutes from his own. However, when Lyle won the 1988 Masters on the last hole with a spectacular seven-iron shot from a fairway bunker and a heartstopping 10-foot putt, Faldo was on the balcony of the Augusta National clubhouse with Lyle's parents, shouting happily as Lyle emerged from the scorer's tent.

Lyle's casual approach to golf and life amazes and amuses Faldo. "I'll be doing my bit, grinding away," he says, "and Sandy comes along, has a couple of swishes, and off he goes. And he's happy." Faldo remembers one tournament in which Lyle apparently didn't even bother to warm up. He arrived at the 1st tee, took his couple of swishes, whacked his drive down the fairway, grabbed his shoulder and said, "Ooh, that's a bit stiff."

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