When you think of golf, you think of Scotland, and so last week in a British Open Golf Championship that most of the time was cold, wet, windy and gray, the triumph of young Scotsman Sandy Lyle—"Ourrr Sundy"—put a lump in the throat of Brits starved for a champion of their own.
Lyle's first victory in a major was a show of strength, guts and perseverance, for he played only one round below par of 70, returning 68-71-73-70—282, two over on the old Royal St. George's links in Sandwich on the southeastern coast of England, a layout that seemed filled with torment. Lyle, 27, became the first player from Great Britain to win "The Open" since Tony Jacklin had his name engraved on the trophy in 1969—with Lyle watching in the Royal Lytham crowd—and, more important to sentimentalists, the first Scot to do it since Tommy Armour, the Silver Scot himself, prevailed at Carnoustie in 1931.
Lyle finished a shot ahead of America's Payne Stewart, who turned in a final-round 68 early and then repaired to the ABC broadcasting booth. Five others, including David Graham, the Australian who lives in Dallas, and Masters champ Bernhard Langer of West Germany, both of whom began the fourth round tied for the lead at one under par but stumbled to 75s, tied for third at 284.
The 114th British Open provided a course-record score from a fellow with a bartender's figure, Ireland's Christy O'Connor Jr., who shot a six-under 64 in the opening round; a par-5 14th hole that reared up and gobbled golfers, among them Peter Jacobsen, who was leading Thursday until he made a quadruple bogey there; the kind of nasty, soupy weather that discouraged the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros; a streaker at the 18th hole on Sunday; and, finally, a popular champion in the decidedly low-key Lyle, the son of a teaching pro and a player who has been heralded as Great Britain's best for years.
Above all, this was a tournament fraught with frustration. The weather, always a factor, was horrid. The remnants of Hurricane Ana hovered in the vicinity for the last two days. And the par 35-35—70 links was so malicious that not a single player recorded a round without a bogey. Langer and Graham started Sunday's round with bogeys—Langer shot 39 on the front side, Graham had a 37. After playing the front nine in three under par, Tom Kite, never a winner in a major, found himself with a two-stroke lead, but a double bogey on the 10th hole, a 399-yard par 4 that sits like a plate atop a knob, sent him reeling to a back-nine 40 for a total of 285 and a tie for eighth place. Graham regained the lead, but he slipped with four bogeys on the back nine. So who was the leader? Lyle, who quietly made birdies at the 14th and 15th and led the field by a shot as he was playing the par-4 18th.
But he looked anything but triumphant. His tee shot at the 458-yard hole caught the right rough, and his second shot bounced into the rough to the left of the green, about hole-high. Lyle tried a lofted pitch to the crest of a mound on the green, intending for his ball to run down to the pin. But the ball bounced into the mound and rolled back toward the unbelieving Lyle, who threw himself onto the ground and banged his wedge in absolute disgust. The ball stayed on the green about 25 feet from the pin, and Lyle seemed ripe for three putts and a double bogey. But he recovered his composure and rolled his first putt to within 18 inches of the cup and holed out for a bogey. He signed his card and then watched on television—the BBC—in a tournament office as Graham and Langer, who were still a stroke behind after both bogeyed the 16th, played the final two holes.
Their task could not have been more difficult. The finishing holes at Royal St. George's are monsters, the 17th a 425-yarder into the wind, and the 18th, well, the only hole on the course that did not yield a birdie on Sunday. Indeed, it surrendered only 13 birdies the entire tournament. Both players missed long birdie putts at 17, and the British crowd, normally courteous, cheered like football fans when Graham and Langer misfired on their second shots at 18, Langer first sailing a three-iron into the right rough, Graham going into the front bunker.
Graham's blast came up 12 feet short, leaving it up to Langer. He made a bold effort, but the ball grazed the hole and rolled four feet past. Lyle almost fainted, and his wife, Christine, a former player on the women's European Tour, burst into tears. Lyle had been talking to his parents on the telephone, and they, too, were overcome.
For the first time since 1974, when Gary Player led all the way at Royal Lytham, no American led any round. Some Yank apologists, of course, were quick to point out that many of the best Americans, including Curtis Strange, the PGA Tour's top money-winner, had stayed home. In fact, only nine of the top 20 money-winners on the PGA Tour bothered to attend. Some did not want to go through qualifying, a few didn't like the reward/cost equation, and others stuck up their noses at the bump-and-run, ricochet-romance type of golf demanded on Great Britain's links.
Still, Lyle prevailed over a field at least equal in talent to the ones at the other majors. Moreover, his victory—on the heels of Langer's win at Augusta and Ballesteros's at St. Andrews in 1984—was another victory for the Europeans, whose tour only a few years ago was dismissed as a satellite circuit.