To a certain generation Paul Way was as good as it gets. Mark Townsend meets the 1985 Wentworth champion to talk about beating Sandy Lyle
I wanted to be Paul Way for much of my teenage years. Young, cool, forearms like Popeye and a style of haircut, a magnificent blond wedge, that signified the mid 80s better than anyone else in the game.
What I lacked in forearm power and self-confidence I made up for via a haircut that similarly swooped from one side of my head to the other.
I might have looked a 14-year-old mess but, to me, it was a small step to resembling Way who, in my eyes, was golf’s answer to something out of Miami Vice.
The first tournament I went to was the 1985 PGA Championship at Wentworth.
One day out quickly became all four, which culminated in Way rifling a 1-iron to the back of the 17th green in a play-off with Sandy Lyle. It was his second win on the European Tour by the age of just 22.
My dad and I then, rather strangely, stayed behind to watch Way pack his clubs away in his Saab Turbo before heading home ourselves. It was one of the great days of my life.
There were nine events in England on the European Tour, where did the PGA rank among them?
It was the biggest event other than the Open. I used to go to watch the Match Play when I was younger so I knew Wentworth but I maybe only played it once or twice before the PGA moved there.
The first PGA I played in was at Hillside when Tony Jacklin won and then Royal St George’s which Seve won.
How big a fan of the course were you?
I used to like Harry Colt courses; I won the Dutch Open on a Colt course, Utrecht de Pan, in 1982 and I loved the likes of Swinley (Forest, pictured) and St George’s Hill as an amateur.
If you could get out in level or better you would have a good chance of breaking 70 as there were three par 5s coming in. Holes like the 1st, 3rd and 9th you would need a 2-iron to and some would need a wood.
What did you make of the changes made to Wentworth?
When I first played it again I thought it was a bit too Mickey Mouse and then I played it again and thought it was a bit better. Colt always put in great bunkers and, from the level you looked out on, you could see the green. There weren’t many where you had to hit it up your nose so I think they overdid it a little bit.
What do you remember best of the win there 34 years ago?
I remember the last 20 holes. I played the first two rounds with Seve and shot 75-72 and that was always difficult as he was so good. I was still three over when I birdied 17 and eagled the last so turned it into a 69. It was very wet that week so it was playing long and the scoring was quite high.
I then managed a 66 on Sunday so I was nine under the last 20 holes after making the cut by one shot.
How good was that 66, it was the best round all week and one of only 18 rounds in the 60s all week?
On the last day I was paired with Gavin Levenson from South Africa who was a nice guy to play with. I was out in two under which was great and then birdied 11, 12 and 13, I dropped one at 15 but birdied 16 and 18 to tie with Sandy Lyle. Had I birdied the other par 5s I could have shot 64 but it is always easy in hindsight.
What’s it like playing the 17th in a play-off with Lyle?
The 17th was always very intimidating, out of bounds left and, if you miss right, you are struggling to reach in three and there is more out of bounds left short of the green. The camber took you away from the dogleg but I managed to draw one off the tee and then flushed a 1-iron, I probably got a bit of a flier, which scooted down beautifully.
How did the rest of the year pan out?
I was all over the place and so busy that I got tonsillitis at the Open at Sandwich. You are at hotels and airports and living the high life and, because you are doing well, it takes it out of you. I delayed the op so I could play in the Ryder Cup.
Then Howard Clark and I were second for England in the World Cup in California, he played great and we were second behind Canada. But the middle of the year I struggled.
Your three wins came with low final rounds, you were presumably comfortable in the mix of things?
I found it easier when coming a bit from behind, I fancied my chances if I was four or five shots off as I knew it was hard to break par when you’re leading. I used to just go for everything. I was a streaky player, a lot of people are. You are playing with fractions all the time, everybody is the same, it depends if you are off or you are on.
You were 10th on the Money List in 1985 and then 125th the following year. How did you try and stop the descent?
I was trying things all the time. You know what you’ve got isn’t working and everybody is getting better and younger. You end up fiddling too much as you are trying to get better and better. I tried to keep it simple but I’d had lessons since I was 11 so I was also a bit technical.
If it happened today there would be more help, every sport has moved on now. I was with Mark McCormack and IMG and they were pretty good but it is so different now.