On the night of his 30th
birthday, July 18, 1987, Nick Faldo's career had
known its ups and downs. After winning 11 times
on the European tour, and once in the United
States, between 1977 and 1984, Faldo hadn't won
at all for three years, until the rot had been
halted at the Spanish Open two months previously.
Now, he was a shot out of the lead in the Open
Championship with 18 holes to play. The next day,
Faldo took the title, paring every hole of that
final round in the drizzle at Muirfield. The
overnight leader, Paul Azinger, bogeyed the last
two holes and Faldo had won by a stroke. Since
then, it seems he has hardly stopped accumulating
majors, even though he lost a US Open playoff in
1988. In 1989, he won the Masters and four
tournaments in Europe; in 1990 he won the Masters
and the Open; in 1992, he won the Open again and
five other tournament titles.
What brought about the
transformation? Apart from Faldo's natural
athletic ability and single-minded dedication to
whatever task he sets himself, the answer is
David Leadbetter. Faldo had certainly enjoyed
quick success as an amateur after taking up the
game at the age of 13 (having watched the 1971
Masters on television). In 1975 he won the
British Youths' and the English Amateur. Likewise
the early years of his professional career had
been rewarding- in 1983, he won five tournaments
in Europe and had the best stroke average in the
world. By 1985, however, Faldo had convinced
himself that he wouldn't win a major championship
unless he altered his swing. The swing looked
pretty, but at 6'3", he was prone to errors,
errors which he realized meant he did not have
full control of his game - a lesson he learned in
the harshest manner when his challenge for the
1984 Masters subsided while his playing partner,
Ben Crenshaw, went on to win. So Faldo entrusted
himself fully to Leadbetter, whose glowing
reputation as a teacher has been massively
assisted by Faldo's subsequent record.
They completely rebuilt Faldo's
game, a process that would have broken the heart
and resolve of a less resilient individual. For
two years, the sceptics had said he was mad, but
he has emphatically proved the doubters wrong.
The chief accusation against Faldo is that he has
almost made the game boring because he has made
it predictable. Certainly, at times he seems
flawless. Certainly, he is generally the man to
beat. And certainly, for Nick Faldo, a new life
began at 30.
A young Bick Faldo shows off
the PGA Championship trophy after winning at
Royal Birkdale in 1928.
the totally dedicated world class champion.