Sir Nick Faldo – Cream of the crop

Sir Nick Faldo, one of European Golf’s Big Five alongside Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Seve Ballesteros, who ruled the world in the 1980s and early 1990s, talks to Worldwide Golf’s Scott Grayston about his career as a player and as founder of The Faldo Series. Graduates of The Faldo Series include Yani Tseng and Rory McIlroy, and the six-time Major champion was on hand in Al Ain to crown this year’s winner of the Faldo Series at the Al Ain Equestrian Shooting and Golf Club.

Worldwide Golf:  The Faldo Series has been running since 1996, the same year you won your third Masters title and sixth and final Major. Why did you start the series?
Sir Nick Faldo: People were asking where the next Nick Faldo would come from so we came up with a plan to make it happen. It all started when I was playing with Ray Floyd’s son who told me about the tournaments he had upcoming. I realised then that we had to have more tournaments for youngsters in Britain. So we drew up a series of events divided across six regions of Britain, with three courses in each region, and the winners of each event going into a Grand Final. I used to take the winners to Florida to practice during the winter. Our goal was to create more tournaments and a better practice regime. We also introduced Team Faldo, where I would handpick certain players for additional activites. We took some of the kids to California, including Ollie Fisher, James Heath, Melissa Reid, Carly Booth, Yanni Tseng and a young boy called Rory Mcllroy. They were a very good group of golfers and we took them away several times as Team Faldo. Then Yanni Tseng helped me launch exhibition matches in Hong Kong which took us to Asia. In the last couple of years, we have added Australia and New Zealand as well as forming a partnership with the IJGA (International Junior Golf Academy) in creating events across America. The kids nowadays have such a great experience. They visit some fantastic places. When I was an amateur my first flight was to Dublin and then to South Africa. Now these kids fly all over the world to play golf, it’s fantastic.

 

I think it’s great and it’s so good to be able to bring the 21st Faldo Series Grand Final to the region and to Al Ain Equestrian Shooting and Golf Club. They have been perfect hosts of the regional qualifier for five years and they have stepped up again to host the Grand Final. The course was in perfect shape and it was a huge success as we broke new ground with this first ever Grand Final in the Middle East. We’ve had the sun shining each day and a great temperature to play on an interesting course.

WG: Many wonderful talents have come through the Series – how did you rate Rory as a youngster?
NF: I could see instantly how good his swing and his tempo were. They were his hallmark. I played a practice round with Rory in the 2007 Open and it was chucking it down with rain. He put his waterproofs on and maintained his swing and tempo – that’s when I thought he was different. From that moment he just kept getting better. He was a very good listener and took on board what people told him and analysed it. I chatted to him about his swing and course strategy, and, hopefully, some of my gems sunk in!

WG: How does The Faldo Series work as a registered charity?
NF:  We have three charitable trusts: one in Britain, one in Asia and the 501C3 in America. I generate sponsorship and have to twist a few arms along the way to get sponsors involved, which keeps just enough money in the pot to make it happen. The Faldo Series was all about creating a simple circle of opportunities for amateurs. I still get people from all walks of life telling me that they played in the Faldo Series. It’s great to hear those stories of how they enjoyed it.

WG: Is it true, you didn’t take up golf until you were 14?
NF:  Yes. At school I was very good at most sports, but I was waiting for something that really got my attention. I was watching the Masters on TV and thought I’d like to try golf, so off we went to the local club and I booked half a dozen lessons. I still remember to this day that during my first three lessons I didn’t hit a ball. The first lesson was grip, the second was posture and the third was alignment. On the fourth lesson I hit my first ball. Those lessons taught me discipline. Nowadays you’ve got kids who want to hit it after three seconds. I practiced for four months before I played my first round of golf and hit just over 80 shots. I loved the game by the time I was 15 and I left school at 16 and was winning boys’ tournaments. After achieving everything I could as an amateur I turned pro.

WG: Who was your hero around this time?
NF: I went to The Open at Royal Troon and recall sitting on the back of the range watching Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf, Gary Player and Lee Tevino and when I got back home I would mimic their golf swing. I would play ‘pretend golf’ against them by mimicking their swings and visualising how they played such fantastic shots. It was so powerful to me. I thought I was the only one doing this until I interviewed Jack and he told me he did exactly the same when he was growing up! I guess that’s what great sportsmen do. They mimic their idols and try to do it better.

WG: Have a lot of people tried to mimic your swing?
NF: I guess so. I was fortunate throughout the 90s when golf was very popular. I had a lot of support from people of a similar age who would copy my swing, clothes and clubs. It was quite a laugh, especially 60 years later when we are tweeting about some of the Pringle sweaters we used to wear!

WG: You went from winning the English Amateur to joining the European Tour, winning your first title only two years later.
NF: It was definitely whacky! I was inspired by Nicklaus back in 1971 when he won the PGA Championship to win all four Majors twice. Six years later I was playing against him in The Ryder Cup – and I beat him! A few years ago it dawned on me that I had beaten Jack without winning a 72-hole tournament on Tour. I remind Jack of that occasionally!

WG: In the 80s you decided to completely rebuild your swing with David Leadbetter, having won ten European Tour titles and made four Ryder Cup appearances. Why?
NF: I was leading The Open in 1983 with nine holes to play and blew out. I had already won three times that year but I felt I didn’t have the shots that I needed to win a Major. By 1984 I had a light bulb moment. So, we started changing my swing and my game went downhill. I told David in May 1985 to throw the book at me. It was stupid to change my swing mid-season. My game was all over the place. Fortunately, I had the determination to make it work out. I always believed in myself, although I honestly didn’t know how and when I would get out of the slump I was suffering. Finally, it clicked and I won the Spanish Open in 1987 for my first win in three years.

 

WG: How much did the Spanish Open, and then the Open Championship, victories vindicate your decision?
NF: After winning in Spain, which was in May, I thought that I needed to win again before The Open, but then I thought, ‘No its alright, I’ll win The Open’. It was an amazing feeling for it to happen.

WG: You won six Majors but the most talked about is your Masters win in 1996. People talk about Greg Norman’s collapse, but you shot a final round 67 to win the Green Jacket.
NF:  I guess 99.9 percent of people who approach me say they watched that 1996 Masters and they get all the facts right, so I’m honoured to be part of that piece of brilliant sporting history. It was an amazing week. I had to push myself mentally to win. I didn’t have the same self-belief that I had in my earlier back-to-back Masters wins (89-90) and my swing didn’t feel quite right at the start. But to win three Opens and three Masters was very special.

WG: What did you say to Greg after the final round?
NF: I honestly felt for him. I’ve been lucky. I’ve lost Majors, though I don’t carry any scars. But I would have definitely been scarred by that one. I gave Greg a hug – we were into hugging in the 90s!

WG: In hindsight, when you captained The Ryder Cup team in 2008 would you have changed anything?
NF: As a Captain you can do absolutely everything right, the team and media love you and you’ve got every single decision right. Then on the Sunday singles one of your players has a downhill left to right putt and misses it, despite telling him it was left edge. What can you do as a captain? It’s all down to the player. If you win, you’re a great captain, if you lose, you’re a lousy captain. It’s as simple as that.

 

WG: Out of all your achievements which stands out as the most memorable?
NF: My greatest feeling was going into a Major knowing I could win it. I won my first Masters and Open because I had a good feeling. I guess 1990 was special because I went back to Augusta intending to successfully defend my title – and I did. It was the same in 1992 when I was world number one and won my third Open.

WG: What are your memories of playing in the second Dubai Desert Classic in 1990?
NF: Back then, we were the pioneers. The Emirates Golf Club was an oasis of green grass and everything else was just sand. How times have changed! The players loved the event as it was different to what we were used to. We would see camels on the road on the way to the course and marvel at everything. The course was always in great condition and I certainly wouldn’t have expected Dubai to turn out how it has done. I wish I had bought an acre of sand back then – that would have been a smart investment!

WG: You redesigned the Wadi course in 2005, now known as The Faldo. What did you think of the redesign?
NF: People seem to enjoy that course. I get a lot of good Twitter feedback from people who have played it under the floodlights, which is nice. We made a good course out of the land we were given and routed the wadi in and out. I really enjoy those projects. They are great fun. I would definitely like to do more of those projects in the region.