GOLF Magazine Interview: Nick Faldo

Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by Peter Kessler No Comments

Faldo won the Open Championship in 1987. It was his first of three claret jugs and six total major championships.

By Peter Kessler – This interview appeared in the August, 2003 issue of GOLF Magazine.

When Nick Faldo walked the legendary courses where he evidenced his brilliance, his head down in deep concentration, he was criticized for being a cold fish. When he practiced relentlessly on the range, seeking perfection, he was tabbed a selfish loner. When he won with brilliant golf and stunning emotional control, he was told he had no feeling for his fellow man.

That’s not the Nick Faldo I know, and now that he is 45 and no longer grinding to be number one, the rest of the world is seeing a more relaxed Faldo, too. When I arrived for our interview at the Faldo Golf Institute by Marriott in Orlando, Florida, Nick was happily mugging for the camera and cooperating with the photographer. When I returned home afterward, I found that Nick had called, leaving a message to say thanks and to wish me a happy weekend. Typical Faldo.

GOLF Magazine: How successfully has the new, funny, affectionate, warm Nick Faldo been playing out?

NICK FALDO: It’s always been in me. It’s a bit more in evidence lately. I was a serious golfer, obviously, and then the last five or six years I’ve been through serious ups and downs. When I met Valerie [his wife of two years] the transformation began, and I’m still learning to unwind. Our baby is due in August and our life together is incredible. I know what stage I’m at in my career, what my playing capabilities are. I have to let go of the level golfer I was a little but to be happy with what I’ve got.

GOLF: Is there anything you’re going to do differently this go-around as a husband and father?

FALDO: Totally. It is a massive and difficult job handling a woman. When they say, “no,” do they really mean no? When they say, “yes,” what kind of yes is it? And when they ask a question, you can’t just answer it. You have to work out in a split second what kind of answer they want.

I’m getting better at it thanks to a fantastic guy, Kjell Enhager, who has become one of my truest and closest friends. He is a sports and corporate psychologist who has been working with me on the golf course for almost four years. We go off for a session on golf and the first half is really about how to handle the wives. It’s much more complicated and exhausting than the golf. It’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only guy who is lost sometimes about human and marital relationships. The bottom line is that I care for her so much and I just want to make sure I do everything I can to make her happy.

GOLF: What do you want to try to do differently as a dad?

FALDO: Well, that has been a tough one. Unfortunately, being a professional golfer is not the best career if you want to spend a lot of time at home with your children. You have to be away from them for what sometimes seems like an eternity. But it’s your job.

So, yes, I missed an awful lot of things with my first three children. Then going through a divorce [from his second wife, Gill] didn’t help at all. They grow up so fast. Now I have to fit into their busy schedule. But when I spend time with them, they get absolute priority. I’ll do what any other dad does: the school runs, the rugby or cricket matches, the school plays. If I have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to work on my grips in order to be there for them at 7 o’clock, I’ll do it.

With our new baby, everything will be easier. My whole life is changing now. I have a better balance between golf, business and family life.

I lived in London when Faldo was starting out and remember well the treatment he received from a cruel and unfair press corps. “El Foldo” they called him. They openly rooted against him.

GOLF: The British press targeted you in your early days. It was particularly ugly.

FALDO: Right. “How can we get the blood to drip out onto the paper?” Now they want to do lifestyle pieces. Apparently they have changed, which is great for me and for the good of civilization.

GOLF: Tell me the impetus for overhauling your swing in the mid-1980’s.

FALDO: In 1983, I was tied for the lead in the British Open and I couldn’t handle it. The next spring I was right there at Augusta playing the last group with [Ben] Crenshaw and I saw what it takes to win a major. Then I won at Hilton Head and had an up-and-down season, but it hit me at the end of 1984. That little voice said, “You ain’t got it, mate.”

I saw David Leadbetter in Sun City [South Africa] and briefly spoke to him. I said, “What do you think?” He said, “Well this is causing this and that is causing that.” So I realized there was a chain reaction of things that needed to be worked on. I thought about it while I really struggled in early 1985. We met again at Muirfield Village [at the Memorial]. I said I was ready. That started that little transformation of beating a million balls in two years or whatever.

GOLF: But it wasn’t a little thing. It was the biggest golf decision you have made. You put a lot of trust in this guy.

FALDO: Exactly. I was his guinea pig. He had new theories, which he has changed over the years. So that beginning was a massive experiment. But I put the work in and so, of course, did David.

GOLF: Why did you decide to trust him?

FALDO: The way he explained it to me. A lot of people, I call Band-Aid teachers. I realized it was more than that. I wanted to get to the root of it and fix it properly. He communicated well. That was very important. It was right to trust him. We both became number one at what we do.

GOLF: What couldn’t you handle at Birkdale in 1983?

Faldo (with caddie Fanny Sunesson) won his final major championship at the 1996 Masters. It was his third green jacket. John Iacono/SI

FALDO: My swing just didn’t stand up to the pressure of playing on Sunday afternoon, when I needed it.

GOLF: Was there a shot or a series of things that told you there were real problems?

FALDO: It was a series of things. You can tell by playing against Tom Watson how you measure up. My swing was just unreliable—my assets were my hands and my tempo. I am a tall guy and so [I had] a lot of moving parts because the arms and legs didn’t always want to work together. I survived on timing. It wasn’t repetitive enough. It wasn’t multiple-major-championship material.

GOLF: You won the 1987 British Open after your overhaul. What is the strongest memory of winning your first major?

FALDO: Waiting at 18 after I finished to see if I’ve won or lost or have to go to a playoff. The only way I can describe the sensation is when you fortunately just missed having a car accident and you get that whole flood of everything through your body. I couldn’t watch the TV. I sat with my head literally between my knees. I just listened. I heard [announcer] Peter Alliss say that the next 15 seconds were going to change one of these guys’ lives. We know what happened. [Faldo won when Paul Azinger bogeyed the 18th.] My life certainly changed.

GOLF: It’s funny that a number of really good players have not played their best when paired with you. Scott Hoch’s missed putt in the 1989 Masters playoff. Ray Floyd hitting into the water in The Masters playoff in 1990. Greg Norman shooting 78 in 1996 in the final round. Are you that scary?

FALDO: I think I must be, yeah. I’m sure it’s the same as Jack Nicklaus. The number one ability Jack had was that he played the same game Sunday afternoon. When the pressure mounts, you continue playing the same game. So the guy you’re playing with, he must be thinking, “This guy is all right. We know he can handle it. So I can’t make a mistake.” As soon as you start thinking about the other player, it has affected you.

And even though inside I was absolutely churning, I was still able to keep producing on Sunday afternoon. That’s what I did best and Jack did best and very few others were able to do it.

GOLF: How did you feel playing with Jack in the last round of the 1990 Masters, considering that he influenced you to take up golf as a 14-year-old and he was, at the time, the only one to win back-to-back Masters, as you were trying to do that year?

FALDO: I found it a great omen. There I am trying to equal a record, and he’s right there. It’s quite funny how I get the reputation for not talking to guys on the courses, but I wasn’t the only one. On that occasion, Jack, who is the gentleman of gentleman, was so focused trying to win that he didn’t say boo to me until the 12th hole.

The pressure of the 12th is enormous. I said to him, “God, I’m glad we don’t play this hole every day of the week.” And he said, “I’ve been playing it for 30 years.” Yes, to win there was very special. I actually asked that Jack present the jacket to me. But they said, “No, it will have to be the chairman.”

GOLF: How were you able to play your best on Sunday afternoons?

FALDO: It’s focus. Then it becomes mental. If I trusted my swing, it gave me my mental strength. I have always had the strength to be very powerful in my visualization and in my commitment.

GOLF: In two of your three Masters victories, 1989 and 1996, you came from 5 and 6 back in the final round. And I can’t remember a better final round in the last 10 years than your 67 in 1996. Don’t people realize you’re just a birdie machine?

FALDO: The last round is the time to make things happen. For any great player in any sport, you have this ability for a period in your career when you can make things happen. I had that for a while. Winners win and losers find a way to give it away.

GOLF: What do you do best now?

FALDO: Walking. Even at 45 I’m a lovely mover. No, I’m actually doing a lot of things very well. A lot of things have improved the last couple years. I said to myself: “OK, if we’re going to keep playing out the end of this career, let’s really pick out the best stuff from 10 years ago and just do it.” So I changed my attitude about putting.

GOLF: I used to see you on the practice green with rulers and all sorts of crazy training aids.

FALDO: You need the technical side. You need the trust in your stoke. Once you have the trust you have to work on pace and reading greens. If I have something that is working, I’m not going to fiddle so much. It’s a bit late to start going off into the wilderness and start finding something new.

It’s the same with my swing. I can’t beat as many balls, so I’ve just got to be happy with what I’ve got and keep doing it.

GOLF: You’ve been number one. What are your thoughts on Tiger Woods, the new number one?

FALDO: Well, he is phenomenal. I think he has got the whole Tour beat because he has led what, 30 tournaments after three rounds and won 28 of them. In majors, it’s 8 for 8. So, he sent the message and everybody is consciously or subconsciously talking themselves out of it. “Well, he’s never blown one, so how can the rest of us have a chance?”

GOLF: What did you think when Tiger revamped his swing after winning the 1997 Masts by 12 shots?

FALDO: He’s really helped me because when I used to go through all my swing changes, they all used to say, “What and idiot. What is he thinking?” Then Tiger does that and they say, “Maybe Faldo was right.” That’s why I like Tiger.

GOLF: Ben Hogan used to say he couldn’t concentrate on his game and have a personality and talk to the crowd. Aren’t you like that, too?

FALDO: Exactly. I felt I was better if I was cocooned. Totally focused. I hadn’t learned to switch on and off. Now, Kjell tells me, “I could have taught you that.” You have a trigger to switch back on to it. You watch a lot of any of the great athletes—[Bjorn] Borg used to just spin his racket and it reset him. I never learned that in those days.

GOLF: After the 1996 Masters, you hit a dry spell, winning only once since. What happened?

FALDO: Well, a lot was happening in my life. I hit the “dark years” and the divorce. You can imagine the emotion of the divorce. You have the children involved, the financial things. Then I hit a run of bad business decisions, counting my chickens before they hatched with the Adams thing [Faldo signed a 10-year agreement with Adams Golf in 1998, but parted with the company two years later when he stopped using its clubs]. I went through more bad management problems [parting with long-time manager John Simpson in 2001]. So it has been an ongoing battle.

It is only now that we really can say that we have a handle on things. It’s good to learn from your mistakes. I say to my kids, I said to Matthew [14], “If you’ve got any problems just ask me because I’ll tell you what, son, I’ve been through it. I’ve had people betray me—friends of 25 years. I haven’t seen everything but, boy, I’ve seen a lot. Please ask me for an opinion on things, my son.”

Among 40-odd international victories, Faldo has nine wins on the PGA Tour, six of those are majors. The other three came at Riviera, Doral and Hilton Head. He’s won more Ryder Cup matches than anyone. What player of his generation wouldn’t trade records with him?

GOLF: Do you have any doubt that you’re the best player of your generation?

FALDO: I must admit that my record looks pretty good on paper, and yes, I am very proud of it. But as we all now, golf doesn’t work like that. When I was winning majors and ranked world number one, I was “the man.” But as soon as you feel you are off your game and you see the other guys winning you sure don’t feel like you’re the man anymore. In golf once you think you’ve got it, the golfing gods remind you that really you don’t.

And that is precisely the time the press chooses to beat on you and tries to bury you. “The fallen star.” “The forgotten hero.” All those headlines. Once I said, “I’m terribly sorry guys, but I’m still out here because I enjoy it.” Then they did a 180. Then it was, “well look at that. He’s 45 now and he’s still out there enjoying it. He’s still pursuing as hard as before.” And somehow they start admiring that perseverance and determination.

GOLF: If anyone ever says that Greg Norman or Nick Price was the best player of your era, how do you react?

FALDO: I think the obvious one is you have majors to be counted and you have rankings to review. Greg was the best in the early and mid-1980’s, and I beat his record for consecutive weeks at the top of the World Ranking with 81. Price was very good. It was him, Greg and Fred Couples of that period. But hey, I have as many majors [six] as the three of them combined. Ha, ha!

GOLF: Are you surprised that those guys didn’t win more majors?

FALDO: Yes, because they were great players. I couldn’t really answer why. It was a feather in everybody’s cap to beat Greg, so everybody chipped in against him. But again, it comes down to playing your best game on Sunday afternoon and very few players in history could do that.

GOLF: Was Greg your main rival?

FALDO: Yes. That period of time was Greg, Price, Freddie, but there were a couple of times—1993 at Royal St. George’s [won by Norman] and St. Andrews in 1990 [won by Faldo]—when I thought if I beat one man this week, Greg Norman, great.

The 1996 Masters wasn’t a good example because I was throwing my clubs in the practice round. It was all going wrong and I went to lunch and sat with a friend and he said to me, “Just remember you are Nick Faldo.” I still wasn’t confident going to the first tee on Thursday. To come off with a 68 in the first round was the breakthrough of the week. On Tuesday I can’t hit a shot and on Thursday I’m Nick Faldo again.

GOLF: Why do you suppose your major record is one of the best ever?

FALDO: That was my goal. To win major championships. That was what I committed myself to. You’re measured by the majors, and I was able to prepare with the intention to win. I’m very, very proud of the 1990 Masters. Defending champion. That wasn’t just show up and play. To win the [British] Open in 1990 was an intention. I had missed out in the U.S. Open. I vowed after that I was going to win the British Open.

Then in 1992 it was the same thing [at the British Open] as I went in as the favorite. So, those three I’m very proud of. That is a very different ball game than just going to the majors and saying, “Hmm, things feel pretty good this week. Let’s see what happens.”

GOLF: How nice is it to be working with caddie Fanny Sunesson again?

FALDO: Ah, Fanny. She’s like a baby sister, really. She saved me on all sorts of things. She saved my relationship with Valerie.

GOLF: How so?

FALDO: Well, without going into details, she convinced Valerie of the sincerity of my feelings for her. She stopped Valerie at a tournament and told her, “I’ve known Nick for almost a decade now and I’ve never seen him like this. I can tell that this is the real thing and we must make it happen!” She stepped in when I needed her most.

GOLF: Tell me about your wine business.

FALDO: I did the proper tasting, which was great fun. I’m not one of the experts we’re relying upon. But I was there. I tasted it. I spat it out. So it’s a genuine Faldo selection.

GOLF: Do you drink?

FALDO: I enjoy my wine, my whisky, my beers, but I’m pretty disciplined. The last time I was drunk was New Year’s Eve 1993. Seriously drunk when you’re lying on the floor counting chocolates.

GOLF: Had a little buzz, Nick?

FALDO: I made punch. I made red punch and white punch. People tasted the white punch, which was like if you breathed out the wallpaper fell off the wall. Nobody was drinking the red one, either, so I just mixed them. It was like rocket fuel. I enjoy a glass of wine now, but everything is in moderation. I’ll have a glass or two.

GOLF: I have known you for almost 10 years now. You seem the happiest you’ve ever been, the most comfortable in your own skin.

FALDO: Exactly, I was a fierce competitor. My regret, if it is a regret, is that I never got the chance to know Greg, Seve, Price and the other guys very well.

GOLF: Any other regrets?

FALDO: Wow. A million things. I would love to change relationships with people and girlfriends and the way I’ve handled business decisions. You do things and later figure out everything could be done differently. But there is no practice round in life.

GOLF: Tell us about your ex-girlfriend Brenna Cepelak, the University of Arizona player with whom you had a tumultuous relationship.

FALDO: She was a piece of work.

GOLF: She smashed the windshield of your Porsche with your 9-iron, then took off.

FALDO: My mind was so scrambled. Alarm bells were going off around me and I was going, “Hello, can’t you hear it. Need a bigger bell.” I needed Big Ben to just squash me before I suddenly went, “Oh, is that what’s going on?”

GOLF: How did you and Seve get along?

FALDO: I have the utmost respect for him and wish we could have been friends—we were fierce competitors and very different mentalities, obviously. Now, is saddens me because he has beaten himself down so hard. I’d love to be able to give him my two pounds worth. He needs to make a decision now to put his career in a better place, so people respect that period when he was so great. I would advise him to disappear to a tropical island, someplace that he loves. Take the family and coach and friends and psychologist. Have fun with it. Work hard and relax hard as well.

GOLF: Do you feel like you smelled enough of the flowers along the way?

FALDO: I’m going to make sure I do smell a lot of life’s flowers from now on.

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