Lyle went from resume-builder to history-maker in 1985. But to fully grasp the events of that year, it’s important to go back to the Open Championship in 1969. That Open, held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, was won by British star Tony Jacklin. At the 18th hole, Jacklin joyously tossed his ball into the gallery, where it was nearly caught by an 11-year-old Sandy Lyle.
Sixteen years later at Royal St George’s in 1985, Jacklin remained the last Brit to win the nation’s most beloved golf event. Lyle started the day three shots back behind Langer and David Graham. But a wonderful rally on the back nine, including a 45-foot birdie putt on No. 14, carried him to a two-shot win over Payne Stewart. Britain was jubilant.
The celebration continued at the 1985 Ryder Cup. Going into the event, the United States was an incredible 21-3-1 against Great Britain. (Europe was added in 1979, to no avail. The U.S. Team won in 1979, 1981 and 1983.) But with the help of the newly minted Open champion, the Ryder Cup returned to Europe.
Lyle pulled a similar double in 1987. This time, he became the first international player to capture another golf jewel, THE PLAYERS Championship. And he was once again part of the winning Ryder Cup side, as Great Britain and Europe’s first victory on U.S. soil turned that competition into a true rivalry.
The momentum carried into 1988. No Briton had ever won the Masters, but in the final round, Lyle found himself on top of the leaderboard. A shaky back nine saw him fall into a tie with Mark Calcavecchia going into the difficult 18th hole. A par likely meant a playoff. Birdie would win it.
Lyle hit 1-iron trying to play it safe, but carried it into the left fairway bunker. With about 150 yards to the pin and the suffocating pressure of the Green
Jacket hanging over his head, Lyle couldn’t see the flag, so he aimed at a cloud above the green. His 7-iron came clean out of the bunker, landed on a slope on the green and trickled to 8 feet.
It was a shot for the ages.
Lyle made the putt and forever etched himself into Augusta National and British sporting lore. It was the first time someone birdied No. 18 to win the Masters since Arnold Palmer in 1960.
It would turn out to be the pinnacle of Lyle’s career. He would record just one more top-10 finish in a major and four more European Tour wins, the last of which coming in 1992.
But at that point Lyle’s resume and, perhaps more importantly, his impact on the game, were secure.