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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Sandy Lyle is a special, quiet sort of hero

Sandy Lyle has announced he's retiring from tour golf.

Sandy Lyle was the only golfer who inspired me enough to buy his shirt.

I’ve never been one for golf wear generally, even the free stuff that gets thrown at us journalists at many tournaments.

I suspect it’s a habit I got from the seventies and eighties, when male golf apparel was definitely a taste I could never acquire.

I always kind of smirk at the footage of maybe the greatest golf contest ever in these Isles, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977. Tom Watson, an exemplary man in so many ways and playing other-worldly golf on that occasion, is wearing a truly hideous, eye-watering pair of white, green and yellow checked ‘slacks’.

11 years later Sandy won the Masters. He had on a pair of brown checked strides that were definitely out of my taste range.

But his shirt was a classic.

It looks beige on the footage, but it was actually somewhere between olive and gold. It was a proper old school, a thick cotton polo, hard collar.

No fancy embellishment (it was the time of shell suits and those revolting Scotland away shirts, remember) but for a classic, understated adidas logo.

When the Open came round at Royal Troon the following year – my first of 33 for The Courier – I went out to the merch tent on the Monday and bought the same shirt. A Scot had won the Masters, after all, and you had to wear his colours.

Retiring after nearly 50 years

Sandy announced his retirement at the Champions Tour event at the weekend. He’ll tee it up at the Masters next week (as the only Scot again) probably one last time. It seems he and I have come full circle, as that will also be my last week as a full-time golf writer.

Sandy actually won just one top tour event for more than 30 years, a European Senior Tour event in 2011.

Like so many players over the years – including Watson and his contemporary Seve Ballesteros – his peak success was shoehorned into a brief period. His winning was largely done before he was out of his early thirties.

But he was a truly great player at his peak. The Masters win was his second PGA Tour win in a row, his third that year and of course his second major. He was the world’s best player at the time, no question.

Seve famously said that if all of the great five European players of that era played at their absolute best, Sandy would win. He was the most naturally talented of any of them.

But he didn’t have the unquenchable fire of Seve, the doggedness of Langer, the desperate urge to prove himself of Woosnam, or the single-minded focus and drive of Faldo.

A special player and person

Sandy was a huge part of the famous 1985 and 1987 winning Ryder Cup teams. But he didn’t make the team again after that. He was a vice-captain for his friend Woosnam in 2006, yet was the only one of the great five never to captain Europe.

But for some of us – like Paul Lawrie, for example, and more recently Robert MacIntyre – he’s still been a treasured, quiet sort of hero.

He’s always been good with his time with us, even when the game wasn’t being that good for him. Sadly the shirt has long gone, threadbare and discarded.

The last time I saw him play was in 2018, on the first tee at Carnoustie, when he led off the field in his final Open Championship.

The first hit is always a special kind of morning. That one was for a special kind of person and player.

Last Matchplay whets the appetite

More detail on the Masters next week. But the final WGC Matchplay last week has ramped up the anticipation even more.

The PGA Tour really couldn’t have hoped for a better kind of season so far. Well, it could have hoped for a Scottie Scheffler-Rory McIlroy final. Or one that went further than 13 holes, I suppose. But you can’t have everything.

But it’s gearing up to a classic Masters, with the intrigue doubled with the “return” of the LIV exiles.

I don’t think they’ve really been much missed so far – maybe a teensy bit in Austin. None of those due to return seem to have been playing very well in the two LIV Golf events so far.

But what better time than next week to show us what we’ve been missing?

And why can’t anyone pick up the baton and run with the Matchplay? The WGCs may be ending but this doesn’t have to.

Pro captains in amateur events is the way forward

It’s not the biggest Rubicon to be crossed in golf – they actually had a bigger one the previous week – but the R&A’s decision to appoint Catriona Matthew as Curtis Cup captain is a significant one.

Twice a winning Solheim Cup captain – and the only European to win home and away as player and captain – Catriona also was a winner in the Curtis Cup. She was part of three GB&I teams, two of which won and the other retained the cup in a tie.

The barrier to cross now is that Beany is of course still a professional. She’s the first to be asked back to skipper one of GB&I’s amateur teams.

With so few of the career amateurs staying in the forefront of the game, the R&A seeking out professionals to do the job was probably inevitable. They’ll unquestionably consider male candidates when Forfar’s Stuart Wilson, current captain of GB&I men, finishes his tenure.

I have no issues with it all – the boundaries between amateur and pro at the elite level have never been more blurred than they are now. Only I’d like to think when considering candidates they should have some past connection with the amateur event concerned.

That gives plenty scope, however. The likes of Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Stephen Gallacher all played with distinction for GB&I.