x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Lyle waits for the captaincy

The Scot was one of the world's best but never got the credit he deserved so he has earned Ryder Cup honour

Sandy Lyle figures in the dream team of Tony Jacklin, the greatest Ryder Cup captain, but is also
Sandy Lyle figures in the dream team of Tony Jacklin, the greatest Ryder Cup captain, but is also "a forgotten hero."

Nick Faldo has hinted that he would like another crack at the job... victorious 2006 captain Ian Woosnam is ready and willing to return to the fray...Colin Montgomerie may be ready to accept the responsibility although the feeling persists that he would prefer to wait for the 2014 contest to be held in his home village of Gleneagles...so has the time come for the "Forgotten Man" of European golf to emerge from the shadows...?

When asked to name his Ryder Cup All-Time "Dream Team", Tony Jacklin fussed and fretted over his selection, jotting down a name here, scoring out a name there, suddenly thinking of a glaring omission only to dismiss the notion seconds later. Finally, the greatest Ryder Cup captain of them all was ready to pronounce judgement: "Seve Ballesteros...Arnold Palmer... Sam Snead...Bernhard Langer...Ben Hogan,..Nick Faldo...Ian Woosnam...Lee Trevino... Jose-Maria Olazabal...Billy Casper...Raymond Floyd...and Sandy Lyle."

Invited to explain his selections, when it came to the only Scotsman named in his distinguished dozen, Europe's triumphant captain of 1985 and 1987 elaborated thus: "Sandy Lyle is a forgotten hero. His achievements - and what an enormously talented golfer he was - tend to be overlooked. But when he had confidence in his putting, he was a great player. Everything looked so easy." The object of Jacklin's affection grins delightedly when told of his inclusion among the Ryder Cup gods. "Palmer, Hogan, Snead and Lyle, eh? Remind me to buy Tony a drink the next time I see him."

Sandy Lyle has grown accustomed to being overlooked. When he won the British Open championship at Royal St George's in 1985, a grateful nation voted Barry McGuigan, Ian Botham and Steve Cram as their 1-2-3 in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year poll; when he became the first Briton to win the Masters three years later, the sporting public rewarded him with third place behind Steve Davis and Adrian Moorehouse. Even the MBE he was granted in 1987 ranks below Colin Montgomerie's OBE, let alone the knighthoods bestowed upon Clive Woodward, Matthew Pinsent and Bobby Robson.

Of Europe's "Big Five of Golf" of the 1980s - the golden decade of Seve, Faldo, Woosie and Langer - he alone has been cruelly overlooked and never granted the honour of captaining our Ryder Cup team. As the ghostwriter of his autobiography, I know just how much this slight hurts the man Seve described, in the pre-Tiger Woods days, as "the greatest god-given talent in history" but, typically, my big pal refuses to launch a Hillary Clinton-style address of self- promotion.

"Everyone knows where my ambitions lie. As a Scot, it would be fantastic to captain the side at Gleneagles in 2014, but that is probably too far for me; at the age of 56, I'll have missed the train. "But two years time at Celtic Manor in Wales? Why not? Of the so-called 'Big Five', I am the only one still awaiting the call. And without blowing my own trumpet, I think it's an honour I deserve in recognition of my past achievements.

"Leading Europe against the Americans would mean every bit as much to me as my Open and Masters victories. That said, I've prepared myself for the worst. If I don't get the job then I ain't gonna cry about it." There are those who claim that Sandy's Ryder Cup train left the station without him after 10 holes of the British Open championship at Royal Birkdale in July when he walked off the course with an embarrassing 11-over-par.

"I've never made much of a fuss about suffering from sore hands, but the knuckles of my left hand that day were aching. It was not arthritis, but the combination of the wind and rain was playing havoc with my joints and I simply couldn't go on. "It's not my scene to play two hours and walk off, but if I had jarred my hand once more, then who knows when I would have been able to play again. As far as that snap decision could impact upon my chances of the Ryder Cup captaincy, I can only hope that my past record would count for a lot more. To me, serving as captain would represent my third major. So, if Europe needs me in 2010, then I'm ready."

rphilip@thenational.ae