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Jim Murray

A Golfing Study of Opposites

February 05, 1989|Jim Murray

Nobody is named "Sandy Lyle." At least, no golfer. There's no such person. It's a made-up name, a fictional character. Something out of a comic strip, a Saturday serial.

We're asked to believe there's a Scottish golfer by that name. Believe that and you'll start to think Frank Merriwell was a real person.

Golfers from Great Britain are named Nick Faldo. Ian Woosnam. Gordon Brand Jr. Sandy Lyle for a golfer is like Sir Galahad for a knight. Something out of Tennyson, not a phone book.

Mark Calcavecchia is real enough, all right. Mark couldn't be anything else. You'd come up to Mark Calcavecchia and he'd say, "I'm Mark Calcavecchia," and you'd be tempted to say, "Of course you are!"

Mark comes out of the caddy shacks of south Florida. Mark looks as if he just climbed down from the cab of a semi at a truck stop. Mark is a kind of beer-from-a-bottle guy. A shut-up-and-deal guy from the old neighborhood.

He sees nothing difficult about golf. No heavy lifting. You don't need a cut man. You get to keep your teeth and eyes. No one ever got knocked out by a green. Cold-cocked by a sand trap. Can you get a nosebleed on a water hazard? What's so tough about a 10-foot putt? The ball doesn't curve, hop, flutter, knuckle. Orel Hershiser isn't throwing it at you. You're not playing for your own money. It's always your deal. Mark can't believe his good luck.

Alexander Walter Barr Lyle is a braw lad who comes comes out of Maxwelton's bonnie braes. His ancestors invented the ruddy game. He probably eats haggis and drinks Glenlivet. When you hear his name, you can hear the pipes skirl. He probably should play his golf in a plaid skirt with a whisk broom on it.

Alexander knows how tough a game golf is. His dad was a golf club pro. If you want to know how tough a game golf is, try teaching it to someone at a country club. No Scot worth his malt ver underestimates the game of golf.

Mark Calcavecchia is not that inhibited. Listen to Mark summing up the hallowed, not to say, haloed, grounds of Riviera this week at the 63rd annual L.A. Open. "There's a few good driving holes out there, only 4 or 5." (This will come as news to great players of the past who played Riviera and thought there were 18 good driving holes out there.)

"There's a lot of holes where you can just hit it," Calcavecchia claims. "You can make birdies. You can just skate around it."

Sandy Lyle, for his part, is not so tempted to put Riviera on a par with a rubber-mat golf course somewhere in Texas. Sandy was, he said, just glad to play it and to feel it suited his game, which is long and straight but not adventurous.

It's not that Sandy is overly modest. When asked to name the five best golfers on the planet today, he conceded he would have to put himself among them. He also said he would include Seve Ballesteros and Curtis Strange but was hard put to round out the rest of the fivesome.

This odd couple led this year's Nissan L.A. Open into the truncated third round at Riviera Saturday, the frowning, phlegmatic Scotsman and the brash, give-me-my-driver-and-stand-back Yank.

They could play only 9 holes Saturday, but Calcavecchia characteristically went around trying to drag the course home to the cave by the hair. Lyle went around romancing it with long irons.

An all-day soaking, identified by the weatherman as "occasional light rain," had left Riviera a-drip, looking for all the world like a listing ship and playing about the same.

Rain is supposed to make a course 3 shots more difficult, but today's golfer asks nothing more of a course than that the ball doesn't bounce. He'll take it from there. Give him a green where the ball sticks like a taproom dart and he's like a kid in a candy store. These guys could birdie a flood. Their idea of a perfect green would be a swamp.

It was a strange tournament. Because of the storm, the tournament proper seemed to be trying to catch up to itself.

Day's end Saturday found the leaders in the position of having to play 27 holes Sunday, nine holes to catch up to the field and 18 holes to keep themselves in front.

Four were tied for the lead. The odd couple, then Hale Irwin, the grand old man of the Tour looking, with a patch on his forehead, like the loser in a dock fight. Then, there was Fred (Boom Boom) Couples, another player who, like Calcavecchia, pulls out the wood and aims for the moon. Right behind them was the Queen's Own, Nick Faldo, the Brit playing under his right name.

Calcavecchia seemed to have more trouble finding the birdie holes than he thought. He found 2 of them in his 9 holes. He also found 2 bogey holes.

Alexander W.B. Lyle, Esq., who has probably played a lot more waterlogged golf than any Calcavecchia, could do no better.

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