Open Replay: 18-21 July 1985

Sport as it was: the week Sandy Lyle triumphed at Royal St George's
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The Independent Online

You think of modern Open champions, and you think of the sophisticated figure of Tiger Woods trailing his entourage around the world. You think of Greg Norman, all slap-on-the-back matiness even while being erected into a worldwide brand. And you think of Nick Faldo, grimly going about his business, looking as if he'd be prepared to stamp on any available throat to win the title.

And then you think of Sandy Lyle. Good old Sandy. A different kettle of character altogether.

I think of Sandy (to call him Lyle seems like throwing his obvious good nature back in his face) often at this time of year, and when I do, two defining moments, five days apart in 1985, come to mind.

One was a social occasion, the other a moment of sporting drama that is now part of Open Championship folklore. And I was fortunate enough, due to some miscalculation by the gods that usually ensured this reporter was kept well away from the action, to have a ringside seat at both.

For the first, the scene is the panelled bar of the function room at The Bell Hotel in Sandwich, Kent. The time is the evening before The Open, and the occasion the annual dinner of the Association of Golf Writers.

A small group of men sit at a round table by the bar. They are the golf correspondent of The Observer, the paper's chief sports writer, the man from the Birmingham Post, and myself, an interloper from the office in London, sent down to snoop about for diary items. We are the first to arrive, the rest still haggling with their sports editors over the degree of absurdity contained in their eve-of-Championship predictions.

The chief sports writer is just starting to sidle up to the beginning of an anecdote when I look up and see that a figure has entered the otherwise empty bar and come to rest in the middle of it. He is wearing a suit, buttoned up in a way that suggests that he is something of a stranger to suit-wearing; and his face, neither happy nor sad, anxious or content, is in what motorists call neutral. He looks like a country policeman dressed up for his brother's wedding.

"Hello, Sandy," calls the golf correspondent. "Come and join us." The figure responds. "Thank you, Mr Dobereiner," he says.

Five days later, by virtue of a God-given talent, two home-run birdies, some astute caddieing by Dave Musgrove, and the disparate failings of David Graham, Tom Kite and Bernhard Langer, this same figure comes up the 18th hole on the verge of winning The Open Championship. He looks comfortable, and not just because he is not wearing a suit. He has a lead, and a par here will make him the first Briton to win The Open in 16 years.

His second shot has ended to the left of the green in a small hollow, and I am now crouching a few yards from it, just inside the ropes. Sandy strides up to his ball, and, as the applause dies away, inspects it, checks out the green, and, finally, settles to the shot.

A deep hush descends in stages, like a vast cathedral congregation quietening before prayer, and thousands of necks crane to get a view. I do not have to strain. From my voyeur's roost I see all of it: the decelerating swing, the ball flopping forward, hitting the bank and rolling back again.

A great primeval groan goes up from the crowd, and Sandy falls to his knees and buries his head in the turf. Back up the fairway, Langer's eyes are probably narrowing.

But Sandy has what men of more obvious steel often lack. He has calm. And he has the soothing influence of caddie Musgrove. He collects himself, two-putts, and 20 minutes later our bar-room companion of a few nights before is The Open champion. You do not necessarily have to be a tiger to win.

Sandwich: the rough and the smooth

1904 Jock White's winning score of 296 is the first Open total under 300
1911 Harry Vardon wins his fifth title after recovering from tuberculosis
1922 Walter Hagen becomes first American to win The Open
1934 Henry Cotton has such a lead he can afford a closing round of 79
1938 Gales destroy exhibition tent but help Alf Padgham drive the 380yd 11th
1981 Jack Nicklaus shocks golfing world with opening round of 83
1985 Peter Jacobsen quadruple-bogeys 18th when par would force play-off
1993 Greg Norman's closing 64 is best-ever final round to win The Open