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'I would drive the JCB to be involved'

When Sandy Lyle suggests that he would be willing to do anything at this September's Ryder Cup at Glen­eagles, one of Scotland's greatest golfers is not joking.

Sandy Lyle is the only one of the continent's 'Big Five' never to have had the chance to captain the European Ryder Cup team. Picture: Getty Images
Sandy Lyle is the only one of the continent's 'Big Five' never to have had the chance to captain the European Ryder Cup team. Picture: Getty Images

"I'd make cups of tea; I'd drive a JCB digger if need be," said Lyle, with the kind of no-task-too-small enthusiasm of an odd-job bob.

Let's hope Team Europe don't find themselves in such a hole against the visiting Americans that the bold Sandy has to trundle in on an excavator and dig them out.

That Lyle is so desperate to be involved in a first Ryder Cup on Scottish soil in 41 years - the event takes place just 40 miles from his Balquhidder home - speaks volumes for his passion for the transatlantic tussle but also highlights the shabby, some would say shameful, treatment that has left him muddling on in the margins of the biennial bout.

The fact that the five-time player has never been awarded the Europe team captaincy - the other members of the continent's Big Five generation, namely Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer, all had a crack at it - is well-documented and the prickly subject often has the 56-year-old rolling his eyes so hard they just about end up staring back into his own brain. "I could be a turncoat," he joked, when it was put to him that Tom Watson could always seek his wisdom for the USA.

Today in Dublin, Paul McGinley, the latest man to slip on the Europe captain's armband, is expected to unveil the first members of his backroom team with Sam Torrance and the Irish veteran Des Smyth being widely tipped to be his initial assistants.

"Sam makes perfect sense to be one of them, with his past experiences," added the former Open and Masters champion, who is not holding out much hope of getting a tap on the shoulder and is already targeting the corporate side of the Gleneagles shin-dig as a way of getting a foot in the door. "I don't know how many vice captains Paul is going to have: three or four? I haven't had any contact with him. I've got no qualms with Paul about that. I don't see him on a regular basis. He lives down in Sunningdale and he probably sees Sam a lot.

"They're both on the same wavelength, I suppose. But I've said many times that if the phone rings I'll be willing to help. The match is not going to be back in Scotland for a long time. I live only 40 miles away so it would be nice to be involved, even if it was just on the corporate side. I'd do anything."

Through his experiences as a vice-captain at the K-Club in 2006, Lyle knows just how important a host of peering eyes and a few sets of attentive ears can be in the all-action arena of a Ryder Cup. It is not all about pairings and singles orders, of course. The wiggling annoyance of ill-fitting team troosers, for instance, can cause just as much pre-match anguish as the trembling prospect of hoiking a hook off the first tee in the opening foursomes.

"A captain needs four vice-captains, very much so," insisted Lyle. "You are the eyes and ears, you have to be alert and in the right place at the right time. There could be a problem with clothing.

"A player comes around and panics. His trousers don't fit and things like that can niggle away at a player. I've had situations like that myself. At Walton Heath [in 1981] the trousers weren't fitting very well so I kept bringing my knee up to my chin to try and stretch them and they tore. I had to wear waterproofs instead."

Such an item of clothing certainly came in handy for Lyle over the festive period as he guddled about in the glaur of an almighty landslip that came careering into the back of his rural retreat.

"I went out with a friend of mine with a torch and was met with muddy water but we couldn't really see it all until the next day and we just went 'holy s***'," he recalled.

"The missus had a look later on and did her knee in. She's still on crutches. There's a helluva lot of work to be done to clear it all up."

Lyle may need to loup on to that JCB digger after all.

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