Sandy Lyle, the first Brit To conquer Sawgrass, candidly reveals the story behind his historic 1987 victory

IT’S HARD to believe it is 29 years since I became the first – and only – British golfer to win THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

For many, my victory in 1987 is remembered for the notorious playoff I had with Jeff Sluman on the course’s iconic 17th hole. What I recall is that darkness had descended upon the course. We were close to asking the officials: ‘Do we continue playing?’ It was so dark that it was likely we could only play one more hole at a push. Sluman had a putt from six feet to win, but as he pulled his club back, there was a commotion behind us. A spectator had jumped into the water.

Players Championship Betting Guide
I have no idea why he did it. I don’t know if he did it for a dare. Thankfully, it was an American who was the culprit. If an Englishman had jumped in, I would have been very, very annoyed.
Sluman missed the putt – sometimes the hands don’t behave like they should – and we went down the 18th, essentially playing in the dark.
That final playoff hole was no fun at all. I’d rather play that famous bunker shot at Augusta to the 18th than hit that five iron to the 18th at TPC Sawgrass. It was almost pitch black and I couldn’t see the green at all. Thankfully, I managed to pull it off in the end and receive the $180,000 winners cheque.

Grandstand moments and finishes at TPC Sawgrass
My confidence was running fairly high in those days and this victory only helped me to believe I could compete at a high level – especially against the Americans in their own backyard.
Back in the 1980s, Europe’s golfers were dominating the majors. I can see parallels now with a real crop of excellent European – as well as British – players coming through the ranks. You only have to look at the likes of Rory McIlroy and the new Masters champion Danny Willett.
Golf is in a good place right now. The standards the current players are setting are incredibly high. You only have to look at the physiques of the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and McIlroy. They all work so hard off the golf course and in the gym. They are all fit and ready to go. They train hard, they have sports psychologists and nutritionists. They don’t leave any stones unturned. These days, golfers are professionals at their sport in all aspects.
It’s incredible to think that players turn pro these days and win virtually straightaway, sometimes in their first few weeks of being on the tour. That was unheard of in my day. It just shows you that golf is still very strong and there are new players coming through all the time.
This year’s PLAYERS should be an exceptional tournament. When you look at the field that is playing there every year, it is absolutely top-notch. Everyone who can be there will be there – something you don’t often get in some of the majors. In the US Open, you have the endless amount of qualifiers that play in it for example.
Whenever I recall my own Players victory, I often think: ‘What will be the fifth major in golf in years to come?’ And if this one isn’t considered, then I don’t know which one is!