Sandy Lyle made golfing history when he became the first player from the United Kingdom to win the Masters Tournament. Thirty years later, we relive the week the Scot made his important breakthrough, and the iconic shot that won him the Green Jacket.
“I thought it was over,” Lyle said. “But when I got up there and saw the lie I had, I knew I had just what I needed to get out of that bunker and go for the green.” – Sandy Lyle, April 10, 1988.
Prior to the 1988 Masters, only two European golfers had ever won the year’s first Major Championship. The European struggles at Augusta National were emphasised by the fact that no man from the United Kingdom had ever won the tournament.
In a field that included eighteen past champions and, in a week where the difficult conditions of the course were on full display, it would have been easy to overlook Sandy Lyle’s chances. While the Scot was a highly regarded player, and had claimed The 1985 Open Championship, the sheer dominance of Americans at the Masters led most to overlook almost every European player—especially in a week where the golf course was the main focus.
With scoring held up in the early rounds, many players had begun to remark that the infamously fast greens at Augusta National were becoming too fast.
Lyle, on the other hand, relished the challenge. The Scot did not criticize the golf course or its difficulty and carded rounds of 71-67-72 to take a two-shot lead into the final day.
The 30 year old ran into trouble in his final round when he reached Amen Corner. After a bogey on the 11th hole, Lyle found the infamous Rae’s Creek at the short par three 12th hole—a place where Green Jacket chances have been known to drown. Lyle, however, stayed patient.
“I knew I had not blown it, because I was now tied with Mark Calcavecchia with two par fives to come,” Lyle told the Independent.
However, after failing to make birdie on either of those remaining par fives, Lyle arrived at the 72nd hole with a share of the lead—seemingly on a collision course with either a play-off or heartbreak.
The Scot hit an adrenaline-fuelled one iron off the tee that went so far it found the fairway bunker he had intended on laying up to. Adversity, however, often presents opportunity.
“I thought it was over,” Lyle said. “But when I got up there and saw the lie I had, I knew I had just what I needed to get out of that bunker and go for the green.”
What came next, was one of the greatest shots in the history of the Masters.
Clipping a seven-iron perfectly, Lyle’s ball cleared the lip of the bunker with remarkable ease, sailing directly over the pin and finding the centre of the green before funnelling back down towards the hole—finishing ten feet away. It is a shot that is widely considered to be one of the finest ever played in the history of the Masters.
When Lyle poured his birdie putt into the centre of the hole, he became the first Masters Champion since Arnold Palmer in 1960 to win with a 72nd hole birdie.
More importantly though, Lyle cemented his name in history as the first golfer from the U.K. to win the Green Jacket.
That win 30 years ago blazed a trail for Lyle’s fellow golfers from the UK, who, including Lyle’s 1988 victory, won four consecutive Masters titles, with England’s Sir Nick Faldo winning in 1989 and 1990, and Welshman Ian Woosnam winning in 1991.
This year, there are 11 golfers from the UK in the field, including Lyle. All of them will be looking to recapture the patience and skill that the Scot displayed that afternoon in 1988.