How 'the fifth major' won the heart of Sandy Lyle
Twenty-five years ago Sandy Lyle became the first overseas winner of the Players' Championship, the tournament that carries most prestige outside the four majors.
The Scot broke an American stranglehold on the PGA Tour's flagship event and that grip has completely disintegrated in recent years. Twelve months ago, Korea's KJ Choi became the event's fourth successive non-US winner.
In the past decade only Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Fred Funk have provided cause for the Stars and Stripes flag to be raised over the Tour's Sawgrass headquarters, where play in the 2012 tournament begins on Thursday.
Lyle's stunning victory in the tournament, which back in 1987 was still called the Tournament Players' Championship, carried huge significance as it offered proof that non-Americans could prosper in Uncle Sam's backyard.
And no-one was more surprised than the champion himself.
"I often look at a poster that I still have on a wall at home with my winning score of 14 under par on it and wonder how the hell I get around that course in that score," Lyle admitted.
"I was amazed because I couldn't see how that layout could suit my game. It is just relentless and by that I mean relentless trouble, with water everywhere."
Sandy Lyle won the Open Championship in 1985 and Masters in 1988. Photo: Getty
Lyle won his title by beating Jeff Sluman at the third extra hole of a play-off.
After halving the par-five 16th, the diminutive American had a chance from five feet to secure victory on the famous island green 17th. But Sluman's concentration was broken as he settled over his putt when a drunken fan dived into the water and his chance disappeared amid the ensuing commotion.
The play-off moved on to the 18th where Lyle, the 1985 Open and 1988 Masters champion, endured one of the most nerve-wracking moments of his career.
"People always think that bunker shot at the 72nd hole at Augusta was my toughest moment," Lyle told me. "But the one that really gave me the heebie-jeebies was the third extra hole to win the Players.
"It was the 18th with all that water down the left and it was pitch dark. I could hardly see the green - it was hard enough to make out the ball at my feet and I had no depth perception.
"There was so much riding on it, with so much money at stake and a 10-year exemption on the PGA Tour."
Somehow his 190-yard five iron found the edge of the green and Lyle was able to make the par that allowed him to bank a $180,000 (£110,000) first prize and acquire playing privileges that allowed him to compete on both sides of the Atlantic.
That golfing dual nationality was then a rare opportunity and it was the exploits in those times of the likes of Lyle, Sir Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros that paved the way for today's plethora of US-based overseas stars.
And it was only right that Lyle's place at the heart of the generation that inspired this shift was recognised by his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday.
"To have the standard of my golf when I was at my best recognised in this way is by far the most important thing," he said.
"I know that those who vote for the Hall of Fame are scattered all over the world so it's a big boost to your confidence. I'd been on the shortlist for a few years and, like the Ryder Cup captaincy that didn't happen, I thought I might have been overlooked.
"This recognition should help hugely with getting into Champions Tour events. I'll have a lot better chance of exemptions, it's a bit like when you get a gold credit card."
Lyle added: "I expect to play more US events, but I will be back in Britain for the Scottish Open, Open and Seniors Open in the summer."
In the meantime, he will be an interested spectator this week as Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy lead the charge to become the first UK golfers to emulate Lyle's 1987 Sawgrass triumph.
"It was my biggest win by a long way outside my majors - and I had a lot of good wins. I particularly remember beating Fred Couples in a play-off at the Phoenix Open when all the support was for him and he was up against little old me," Lyle recalled.
"Somehow I managed to pull it off."
In those days, UK wins on the PGA Tour were scarce but now thanks to Donald, McIlroy, Westwood and Justin Rose they are much more commonplace.
Of that quartet only McIlroy has a major victory and, were any of them to celebrate winning this week, they would have the next best thing to their name.
Some call The Players' "the fifth major" and Lyle has sympathy with the argument.
"When I was asked in my press conference after I won what was the difference between the Players' and the majors, I instantly said 125 years," he said.
"But there's no reason now why it shouldn't be thought of as a major. All the top players are there - it's getting its history and it's on the same tough golf course every year.
"Of course past champions like me or a Tom Kite would want to call it a major, but it's not for us to say," he added.
And that sums up Sandy Lyle. He may now be a Hall of Famer but he remains as self-effacing as ever.
His pioneering win of 25 years ago, though, should not be forgotten - particularly this week and especially if the run of overseas champions continues.