THE Scottish Senior Open at Craigielaw yesterday morning was running slightly behind schedule so Sandy Lyle, one of my playing partners in the opening round of the pro-am event, wandered over for a quick chinwag on the practice putting green to pass the time.

“Where do you play your golf?” the former Open and US Masters champion, European Ryder Cup hero and all-time Scottish sporting great enquired. “Cambuslang in Glasgow,” I told him. “Cambuslang!” he replied with a smile. “Not Craiglang then?”

Gary Evans, the English professional who was making up our three ball, was puzzled. “Don’t you get that programme down south Gary?” asked Sandy. “Great show.” But it transpires that Victor and Jack’s madcap exploits aren’t broadcast in leafy Surrey.

It soon became apparent that Sandy, despite now being the grand old age of 61, is Still Game when play finally got underway. He launched his drive at the 327-yard opening hole onto the front edge of the green and tutted as his ball rolled past the hole and trickled just off the green.

Evening Times:

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He didn’t let the bad break get him down. A deft chip and a confidently holed putt later and he was in the red and off and running. It wouldn’t be an isolated highlight on the outward half.

A smattering of interesting onlookers had turned up at the beautiful East Lothian venue to see Lyle and his contemporaries in action and your intrepid correspondent -who is somewhat prone to the first tee jitters in the Sunday medal at Cambuslang when nobody at all is around - was quite discombobulated by all the attention.

Lyle, who has grown accustomed to performing in front of tens of thousands of spectators and worldwide television audiences of millions on some of the Royal and Ancient game’s most renowned and demanding courses during his long and trophy-laden career, was unfazed.

The man from Shrewsbury, who opted to represent the country of his father’s birth, has lost little, if any, of his prodigious length off the tee, unerring accuracy with his irons and magical touch around the greens despite now being in his seventh decade. He still has that same endearing laid-back approach to the sport as well.

Evening Times:

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He failed to get up and down from just off the green for his par at the short 155-yard third. No matter. He reduced the 583-yard fourth, which was being played into the teeth of a brisk south-westerly breeze, to a drive and three wood in that effortless manner of his and promptly racked up another birdie.

After thundering a drive miles down the fairway on the 424-yard fourth big Sandy wasn’t best pleased. “I was trying for a draw and I hit a cut,” he sighed. Oh, to have such problems.

His tee shot at the 174-yard sixth never left the flag. “I thought we were going to be cracking open the whisky there,” he chuckled to his caddy. There was no hole-in-one to celebrate but another sub-par score was duly recorded up as the putt dropped in.

The fans were clearly relishing a fine exhibition from one of their favourite sons. There were no ropes to stay outside or over-bearing stewards and those watching walked side-by-side with the competitors. John Collins, the former Celtic and Scotland footballer, appeared behind the ninth green and was soon enjoying the vintage display too.

Reaching the turn in 33 put Lyle just behind the early pacesetters. Then the elements intervened. The wind picked up, the rains came down, waterproofs were hastily thrust on, caps were blown off and scoring soon became nigh on impossible.

A loose shot here and a missed putt or two there and Lyle found himself signing for a three-over round despite his best efforts. This was a day when he and Evans very much got on the wrong side of the draw. Nobody ever said golf was fair.

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The less said about this writer’s lamentable round the better. There was, though, one highlight. My approach to the seventh somehow ended up a foot from the cup. “You nearly took the paint off the flag stick there,” said Sandy. “I’ll get your pitch mark.”

They say you should never meet your heroes – but I can heartily recommend playing golf with them.

The man whose poster adorned my bedroom wall when I was a golf-daft teenager - holding the crystal US TPC trophy he became the first British player to win at Sawgrass in 1987following a play-off with Jeff Sluman to be exact - was as pleasant and courteous as you would hope or expect.

He took the time to offer some sage advice on a couple of tees as I stood scratching my head and wondering forlornly what club to hit and complimented my efforts on the occasions I managed to progress the ball forward.

It was a challenging day on the links due to the adverse weather conditions, but Sandy Lyle still showed flashes of the play that made him the best golfer on the planet in his glorious heyday. Form is, as they say, temporary, but class is most definitely permanent.