Interview: Sandy Lyle on his time at the year’s opening Major

The Masters

25 years after his Masters triumph paved the way for Europe's glorious run of success, we discuss all things Augusta with Sandy Lyle

These days I don’t think I could maybe compete as far as winning but I could definitely get in the top 20.

At Augusta I know the course very well and it just suits my style of play, whereas I’ve always struggled on the Major courses in America with the narrow fairways and the heavy rough. I think it killed off Seve quite a lot as well, he felt like he was handcuffed and he couldn’t express himself.

A foot off the fairway and you have to get the wedge out. They did the same at TPC Sawgrass not long after I won in 1987. They started to grow this long grass and and it spoiled the whole flavour of the tournament and now they’ve gone back to the Bermuda grass that gives the guy a little chance to express himself and play a fancy shot.

And that’s what the crowd want to see. They want to see Freddie Couples in the trees hitting a big snap hook round the trees, over the water and onto the green. That’s what makes it exciting.

Augusta has a good blend on both nines. You get past the front nine then think you’ve got a great chance on the back nine.

There are some par 5s there that are very reachable and I always think when you get through the 12th you’ve got the 13th, the 15th and 16th where you’ve got a good chance of making a few birdies.

They put in a new tee there at 13 a couple of years ago.

They bought the most expensive little piece of real estate you’ve ever had. I don’t know how many millions they paid for an extra 20 feet…

In 88, the year that I won, I hit a drive and a 7 iron, around the corner, and even last year I hit a drive and an 8 or a 7 iron to the green, so I suppose it’s stayed pretty similar really.

The way the 18th plays varies greatly.

It depends on what timeof day and what the wind is doing. The first bunker on the left used to be about 245 or 250. It’s now 310 to reach it. So there’s been a huge change in the tee position there – but I can still get in it and I have been in that bunker since they altered it more than once. Their main task about six years ago was to still have the same length of second shots that the guys were having in the 60s or 70s. I think they were getting fed up of seeing guys like Tiger Woods driving it to within 40 yards of the front of the green on the 18th and making the hole look silly.

Whereas back in the 70s it was a hard hole, I mean they were hitting a drive and a 5 or a 6 iron if the pin was on the back of the green.
At Augusta I know the course very well and it just suits my style of play, whereas I’ve always struggled on the Major courses in America with the narrow fairways and the heavy rough The 17th is longer now as well, it has had to be.

The distances now are creeping up into the 350s, and that’s carry distance – it’s mind-boggling.

I remember Gary Player said about 20 years ago there’ll be a guy like a Michael Jordan will come along, about seven feet high,

and he’ll be athletic and he’ll hit the ball 400 yards, and everyone thought ‘has he been drinking, is he off his rocker?’ – well, he’s almost right in his words.

If anything, the bit of rough that has appeared might even have helped.

I hate to say it but Augusta does get a little thin on the fairways early in the year and you get the odd season when they’ve had a really tough winter and the edge of the fairways, like the 13th near the water, gets very, very thin.

It might look on television like nice green grass but when you’re there looking down on it there’s a lot of earth sticking up and just thin blades of grass. So now there’s a nice dose of grass and it’s probably a little better. You get a bit more grass under the ball.

The 7th or the 1st are the holes that have really kicked my buttover the years.

I’ve had quite a few sixes at the 1st, that really kind of spoils the flavour of your day. It’s just very hard to get the ball on the green. It’s early in the day, and you’re always a little nervous. And even after a good drive you know you’ve got to work hard on

your second shot.

It can play very long. I usually have very early times in the morning because of the TV guys and it can be a lot cooler and the ball doesn’t fly at 0830 or 0900 and you can very easily have 200 yards to the middle of the green; it’s not an easy green to hit from that range coming in from a flat trajectory.

So it’s caught me out a few times.

The ball is so much more consistent now, without a doubt.

I remember having this conversation with Byron Nelson, sitting with him at the Champions’ Dinner at Augusta one year and asking him ‘how did you get on with the balls you used in the early days?’

And he told me how he’d fix his balls basically on the range. He’d have his caddy at the other end and when one felt pretty good he’d put his hand up and the caddy would put that in his pocket, that would be a keeper.

You might go through a dozen balls and maybe get six or seven that felt good off the clubface. It’s amazing the scores they did in those days. I mean, that isn’t even a thought these days now to peel off a ball and think I’d better hit it on the range and make sure it’s OK before going out. The regulations and the quality control now are so good, but you used to carry little metal rings round that were just half a millimetre bigger than the ball itself and if it didn’t fit through it you would discard it as it was out of shape.

It was a big selling point for Titleist many years ago because their balls always went through the ring when other makes of balls weren’t quite so clever

Masters Record:
Sandy has played in every Masters since ’85.
Appearances: 31
Debut: 1980
Top 10s: 1 (1988!)
Last cut made: 2009

Read our interviews with Ernie Els and Billy Foster.
The 2013 Masters Preview

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