The day Billy Payne struck fear into Masters champion Sandy Lyle

Bernie McGuire
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Sandy Lyle (Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Sandy Lyle this week was to have marked a 40-year anniversary since the then 22-year old made his maiden Masters appearance.

Just eight years later in 1988 the Scot bravely countered everything to proudly become just the second European behind the late, great Seve Ballesteros to win at Augusta National.

In his 38 appearances and 112 rounds at Augusta, Lyle has had cause to fear nothing. Well, everything except the beckoning finger of Augusta National Chairman, Billy Payne.

If was three years ago at the 2017 annual ‘Champions Dinner’ a dinner hosted that year by England’s Danny Willett.

William Porter ‘Billy’ Payne, born in close-by Athens 72-years ago, is best remembered in getting the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta in his beloved Georgia.

From 2006 to 2017, Payne ruled Augusta National with a virtual iron fist as evident just a few months later, early in the week of the 2007 Masters, when he heavily criticised Tiger Woods declaring he’d failed as a role model after news of Woods’ infidelity.

At the 2012 Masters, Payne fought off reporters’ questions over the subject of women members before announcing on the 20th of August that year that Augusta had approved in allowing Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as the first Augusta female members.

So it’s little wonder, at Payne’s final dinner as Chairman in 2017, that as the ‘Champion Dinners’ broke-up for the evening, Lyle should be gripped with some fear when Payne began waving his index finger in the Scot’s direction.

“I was sitting with him at the table on the Tuesday night and he was sitting at the end of the table and he was down the middle and I was down the side beside Fred Couples,” said Lyle.

“We all tend to sit in the same seats every year as there is no table plan. You sit with whoever everyone gets comfortable with.

“When we had finished the dinner, I had a look across the table from Billy and he motioned to come over with his finger.

“I thought: ‘Christ, what have I done now?’ I was like a schoolboy. I was thinking, I think I have behaved myself so far. Has he got a gripe?

“He said: ‘I play a lot of times around this course at Augusta and take a lot of guests. I can tell you when I get to the 18th, I have to tell these people every time about where you played that shot from the bunker. I am getting tired of it but good luck and well played!”

Lyle could breathe again. An unlikely but welcomed honour from someone of Payne’s stature who last year was indoctrinated into the World Golf Hall of Fame, some seven years after Lyle.

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