THE FALDO FILES: US MASTERS & MORE
Faldo: I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 30. But look at Rory McIlroy, he's won £12m and he's only 22
On the other side of the Atlantic, Sir Nick Faldo is revered as a witty and insightful broadcaster whose work for the CBS network and Golf Channel is enriched by an English sense of humour that Americans adore.
One minute he can be prone to sound like Michael Caine, the next like one of the cast of Monty Python.
And, even in moments of mimicry, he always sounds knowledgeable.
His light but probing touch behind the microphone has been influenced in part by the style John McEnroe brings to his tennis commentary.
In their playing days, neither man could have been accused of having the potential one day to charm armchair audiences.
While McEnroe sulked and raged, Faldo was a singular, headstrong, blinkered golfer who, on the course, rarely communicated beyond a handshake at the start and end of a round.
He cared only for himself, they said.
Yet Faldo, back home last week at his business headquarters in a suite of offices a short walk from Windsor Castle, insists that beneath the demeanour of the cold-eyed assassin that he brought to a golf course during the years he became the most successful British player in modern history, there lurked a child-like mischief that few ever saw.
'What I don't like is people saying that I have reinvented myself, just to be popular,' he said.
'That's the biggest load of rollocks. I wanted to be a daft dad to my four kids - that was probably my No 1 thing. I take that to golf, TV needs it; and I guess, I have a bit of entertainer in me, luckily.
'I did look at the way Mac broadcasts, as well as studying other commentators in American sports. I think my sense of humour works well in America and I make sure I go to the range, or the gym, to speak to the guys to know what's happening. My way of entertaining before was just hitting golf balls bloody well.'
Faldo's record for doing just that has stood the test of time. His six majors - victories in the Open in 1987, 1990 and 1992, coupled with his three wins at The Masters in 1989, 1990 and, most famously, in 1996, when he defeated Greg Norman, who held a six-shot lead on the final day - established him for life.
Among the photographs on the walls of his boardroom, offering snapshots from his illustrious career, is one of Faldo hugging Norman on the 72nd green at Augusta.
On Friday, Faldo looked at the picture and explained how Norman's meltdown had left him speechless.
'I said to Greg: "I don't know what to say to you, mate, but I want to give you a hug".'
Augusta had not witnessed anything comparable since until Britain's Rory McIlroy surrendered a four-shot advantage on the final day as Faldo watched uneasily from the CBS commentary studio.
Faldo has known McIlroy since he appeared as a teenager in his Faldo Series, his hugely successful search for a star programme, and he warned American viewers early that afternoon.
'Poor Rory. He's reached that point where the mind shuts down,' he said on air.
'Once you scare yourself at Augusta - and we have all done it - there's little hope.'
But Faldo does not fear there will be lasting consequences for McIlroy when he returns to the heart of Georgia this week.
'I think Greg was scarred for a while by what happened, but he was towards the end of his career,' said Faldo.
'Rory is still so young, so bulletproof, and he is one of my favourites to win the Masters. 'His No 1 goal will be to be in the same position on the Sunday as he was last time. He's got to world No 1 and he's smart enough to deal with all the questions he can expect when he gets back there.
'He is secure because two months after losing the Masters he won the US Open.
‘I'd back him to play a big part at Augusta. He's got a level head - he's a special kid.'
Once that had been a tag pinned to Faldo.
'I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 30,' he said, with the wry look of a man with multi-millions in the bank as the 25th anniversary of his first major approaches.
'It is a hilarious ambition for these kids playing now. What's Rory won, £12million already! They have no idea.
'I see these silly clips on TV now, and they call me the one-in-a-million wonder kid. I had long hair and a ratty set of clubs that didn't match. I used to pack one suitcase and play in America for three months.
'Now, these kids have jets and clothes waiting for them in the locker room that they wear once and leave behind!'
Faldo's voice carries not a hint of envy. He is the only golfer to have been knighted in his lifetime and, for all the criticism his self-detached attitude to the game brought him, Faldo's art was uncomplicated; the harder he practised, the luckier he became.
On Friday, as tourists eagerly snapped photos of Windsor Castle to show loved ones at home in Toledo, or Tokyo, Faldo stood in front of the gates dating back to the reign of Henry VIII with a broad smile. Only he knew intimately the pomp and circumstance of what lies beyond that entrance guarded by vigilant armed policemen.
Faldo, who grew up as an only child in a council house in Welwyn Garden City, recalls with affection and pride the day he was asked to kneel before the Queen to be knighted.
'The procedure is so wonderfully precise, so British,' said Faldo.
'I was told: "You'll start here and walk shoulder to chest with Gordon." In the King's and Queen's Room you are asked if you would like to practice how to kneel. You are told you have to have your left foot beside the cushion first, then drop onto your right knee. Well, I saw the funny side of this... I stood looking at it like a long jump. Do I start lef-tright or right-left? If you get it wrong, you could fall into Her Majesty!
'What I remember most is Her Majesty seems to be standing a long way back when suddenly, a sword, almost as big as a driver, comes at you. The sword is more than 200 years old and it's cool to think whose head that has been on.
'I cried afterwards. No doubt, it was the most emotional day of my life, off the golf course, apart from the birth of my four children. It was brilliant to see my mum and dad so proud.'
As Faldo recalled that precious moment, he smiled: 'I am a serious softie.'
Those who played against Faldo would testify against such an admission in court without the need of a subpoena.
But Faldo argued, defiantly: 'For me to be a hard bag of nails on the golf course was generated for the purpose of being a successful golfer. So, I think I did a damn good job. I didn't necessarily make friends. I could do all the things psychologists say are good to do; which others train their backsides off to do.
‘They call it getting in performance-mode nowadays. That's a great quality, isn't it?
'But people would see me like that and didn't like it. I was focused, obsessed. But what was an enviable quality on the golf course was seen as not such a great quality off the course.'
Faldo is comfortable with that. His three failed marriages tell, at least on the surface, a price Faldo has paid for his insular lifestyle. Yet he has retained strong, loving relationships with his three adult children, Natalie, Matthew and Georgia, as well as with seven-year-old Emma, who lives with her mother, close to his home in Florida.
'Natalie's just started on the production staff of a TV show in America, Matthew's worked for me in the past, and everyone likes him, and Georgia's studying law at East Anglia University - and if she does company law, there will be a job waiting for her!'
Natalie was just a toddler when his career took off, at Muirfield, through the grainy light of an inhospitable Scottish summer.
Faldo typically held the best golfers at bay with 18 holes of par golf. Only months earlier, he had been still trying to piece together a game that had been utterly remodelled with swing coach David Leadbetter.
'I was missing cuts, sponsors were leaving me and I was earning zip,' recalled Faldo.
'At Muirfield, I was so flipping nervous. I worked my tail off on every shot, in terrible weather, under that new kind of pressure.'
At 54, and building a new apartment with views of Windsor Castle, he says he carries only one scar from golf. No one has scored more points for Europe and Ireland in the Ryder Cup than the 25 won by Faldo, but his year as captain ended in defeat, in 2008.
'I think there were lots of people who wanted me to fail, as they thought, "Faldo's got everything",' he said, sadly.
'It was tough.'
But history will ultimately be generous to Sir Nick Faldo, the English knight adored beyond these shores for the knowledge and entertainment he brings to American TV audiences.
Sir Nick on Rory's mental damage, Lee's big weakness, Luke's brains... and how to tame Augusta
Ninety minutes in the company of this country's greatest-ever golfer is such an insightful experience it seems extraordinary that nobody seeking to follow in his footsteps and win the Masters this week has availed themselves of the opportunity.
Sir Nick Faldo's three green jackets, not to mention an equal number of Claret Jugs, surely add up to an invaluable resource when you're dealing with the desperately fine line separating England's top players from major championship glory. And yet no orderly queue has been formed towards his door.
'I must say I am a bit surprised,' said Faldo. 'I know I have a reputation of looking through people at times but, are you kidding? I'd love to help out. I want to see them join the club as much as anybody.'
Perhaps his pointed observations as one of America's leading television analysts has made players wary and put noses out of joint. Or the aloofness that marked him out as a player clings to his reputation.
Whatever the reason, you can't help feeling a stone has been left unturned in the quest for a first UK Masters victory since Faldo himself completed his march for the ages to catch Greg Norman back in 1996.
Now 54, and still with the gait that made him such an intimidating figure in his prime, the Faldo sitting opposite me could hardly be more compelling, mixing judicious observation with constructive criticism.
He can't hide his admiration for Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, while voicing fears for Lee Westwood, advice for Justin Rose, tough love for Ian Poulter and a damning verdict on Paul Casey.
He is brilliant on the plight of Tiger Woods and the fear factor that stalks every footstep at Augusta National, with the brutal demands it inflicts before giving out its prize.
Let's start with McIlroy, the man who will be at the centre of a publicity storm next week. You think he unravelled on the final day of the Masters last year after hooking his tee shot wickedly into the trees at the 10th? Not even close, according to Faldo.
'Poor Rory had gone long before then, that tee shot was just a consequence of what happens when your senses have gone beyond the maximum, your brain is on overload, and you can't get through the ball properly,' he said.
'I remember going to the course that day and feeling slightly worried for him, that everything had gone so perfectly to that point, would he be able to cope if a doubt crept into his mind? I remember talking to him a few weeks later and, sure enough, he was telling me about his wedge shot to the opening green. He had 128 yards to the hole and halfway down he thought to himself, "Don't go left". In that moment he had scared himself and the first time it happens to you it feels truly awful. There's so much information running through your head, and you just shut down.
'At the next hole you're standing on the hill and you're thinking, "I can't go left, I can't go right and I can't go long". And so it goes on and on, for hour after hour and suddenly you've got this little demon sitting on your shoulder feeding negative thoughts into your head.
'That's why the Masters is the most mentally demanding of all the majors, and you had to feel for him, having to learn with the whole world watching. And what happens at the next major, the U.S Open?
'On the first hole he has a wedge shot exactly 128 yards from the hole. I tell you, it showed me a lot about Rory that he hit it to eight feet. That was such a lesson for him and to go on from that and lap the field, that was incredibly impressive.
'So now he goes back to Augusta with all the mental damage cleared away, with all that knowledge stored from last year. Sometimes with Rory his right knee is firing around a bit and he loses his tempo. But, if he's on his game and his rhythm is good, I give him a heck of a shot at winning.'
Faldo couldn't help but chuckle when watching Donald practising recently.
'Most players on the range will hit to flags, but Luke had his caddie out in the distance, telling him to the yard exactly how far he was hitting his short irons,' he said. 'I used to do that with Fanny Sunesson and Luke's right, that's exactly what you've got to do if you want to be ready for Augusta.
'If you're practising hitting to flags that's no good because you can't tell whether one shot is going three yards further than the next, and that's fatal at the Masters. People don't believe you when they say you've basically got six feet to play with on your iron shots but that's the case most of the time. The flag might be 147 yards away but there will also be a ridge 145.5 yards away, and if you pitch into that you'll spin off the front of the green.
'But you'd expect Luke to have absorbed that. He's a smart man, one who wasn't given anything like the credit he deserved for winning the final event on the US Tour last year to claim the money list. That's one of the hardest things to do, add an event at the last minute and deliver.'
Will he cope with the burden of expectation that comes with being world No 1? Faldo, who knew all about that pressure, gives a dismissive shrug.
'I just worried about what I needed to do, I wasn't interested in the pressure that others might heap on me,' he said. 'I was doing it for me, I looked after myself, and I wanted to win. That's what it is about. I think Luke knows what he is doing.
He's organised. He's got his boxes, where he makes time for his sponsors, the media and his practice.
'It's easy to cope with the pressure if you're playing well. He's long enough off the tee and all the stats show us he's dialled in with his irons and his short game is amazing. That's what the Masters is all about. Land it on the number and hole your putts.'
What about the third member of the UK's triumvirate at the top of the rankings, the sentimental favourite Westwood?
'How impressive is being out on tour and trimming his waist from 40 inches to 34?' said Faldo with a grin. 'I'm only trying to lose an inch and I can't manage it.
The great thing about Lee is he is clearly comfortable with his game, he looks relaxed, he's enjoying himself and getting himself fit has done him good.
'Maybe Darren's [Clarke] victory in The Open last year will be good for him as well. Perhaps he's thinking to himself, "That should have been me knocking off my first major and now I am going to win one through sheer determination".
'My worry for him at Augusta would always be his chipping action. It doesn't have the flow with his forearms that was the hallmark of Masters champions like Seve, Ollie [Jose-Maria Olazabal] or myself. It's all a little wooden, a little scoopy.
'It is hard to describe to people how difficult chipping is at Augusta. Again, you've got to be so precise. Can he work round that? Maybe he will just play so well he will take the pressure off. But can he do it on Sunday afternoon?'
Faldo's thoughts on Poulter and what he claims is his tweeting obsession have been documented here before. What about Rose?
'He does everything right and has done for a while now,' he said. 'He looks a bit technical at times, but I'd be the last person to criticise him on that score. Has he enough experience of being right in the thick of it on the final day and thinking, "Wow, that's what it feels like"? That might be the next step for him.'
Faldo shrugs in frustration when I ask him if there are any benefits for Casey being fresh for the Masters, as he has just returned after dislocating his shoulder snowboarding.
'None whatsoever,' he said. 'How daft can you be? I remember the first time I went skiing with the family, this fellow put his thumb out of joint right in front of me and that was enough. I bought myself a big camera and contented myself with taking pics of the family and going on power walks.'
Like everyone else involved in the sport, Faldo can hardly wait for the start of the Masters, and not just for the realistic possibility of a UK victory. He's just completing a month away from tour life, catching up on his golf design work and overseeing the Faldo Junior Series, which now has 7,000 golfers involved in 27 different countries. From McIlroy to the dominant woman Yani Tseng, virtually all the young stars of today have appeared in it.
'I'm in my eighth season on television and glad I'm still heavily involved in golf,' he said. 'Life is pretty darned good and the game is fascinating. There's not just all the UK players. There's Phil Mickelson looking like he might go well at Augusta and what's going to happen with Tiger?
'I've always said there are four areas to golf and five years ago he might have been the first man to have them all working 10 out of 10. There's the technical side, the mental side, the physical side, and the family side. Even if one breaks down you can cope if the other three are going well.
'But he lost his technique, his health, his wife and then, on Sunday afternoon at Pebble Beach, we saw him playing a shot that was clearly borne of fear. In other words, he'd lost it all, and so now he was like a rookie, starting over.
'Right now you'd have to say there's no way he'll break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors [Woods has 14], but who knows if he holes a few putts and suddenly starts building up those four areas again?'
Is there any chance of seeing Faldo the player again? He still has exemptions to play in the Masters and The Open but the former is out due to his commentary work. As for the latter, he won't be able to resist the temptation of playing in The Open at Muirfield next year, scene of two of his Claret Jug successes.
Away from golf, his three grown-up children are all doing well, while a fourth, eight-year-old Emma, lives close to him in Orlando. He has a long-term girlfriend who is also his manager, but plays down any talk of a fourth marriage.
'You don't need to ask a silly question like that,' he says smiling. 'We're just enjoying being together.'
'Officially, no more,' was Faldo's disgruntled verdict at the end of his tortured time as Ryder Cup captain in 2008 but, as this interview shows, he still has plenty to offer.
If the UK's 16-year wait for a Masters champion is extended next week, leaving the leading protagonists wondering where the missing piece lies, perhaps it is worth them bearing in mind that Faldo's door remains open.