By: Claudia Mazzucco: On this day, July 18 1957, Sir Nicholas Alexander Faldo was born in Welwyn Garden City, in Hertfordshire, England. He was an only child and a loner, enjoying cycling and swimming. He had never picked up a golf club when, as a 14 years old, he watched the 1971 Masters Tournament on his parents’ new color television.
He remembered, “I was just absolutely mesmerized when I saw the Masters that year, particularly by Jack Nicklaus striding across Augusta’s impossibly green fairways. I marched downstairs and announced to my Mum that I was going to take up golf. ‘You’re having a haircut first’ she said, which seemed like a fair enough deal at the time – even if Augusta was waiting!”
Within three years he was a successful British amateur. A school counselor suggested professional sport was to be avoided since only one in 10,000 make it. “Well, I will be that one, then,” Faldo replied. He won the English Amateur and the British Youths Championship at the age of 18, in 1975, and turned professional a year later. By the age of 20, he became the youngest player ever to qualify for the Ryder Cup in 1977. He played well, beating Tom Watson in their singles match.
After winning the British PGA in 1978, 1980 and 1981, Faldo continued to have success in Europe, topping the money list in 1983, before crossing the Atlantic to win the Sea Pines Heritage Classic in 1984. But his apparent inability to close out a major championship – the 1983 Open at Birkdale and 1984 US Masters were particularly upsetting – led him to the sudden realization that something would have to change in his swing to hit the shots he needed to hit when the pressure was at its greatest. Then he decided to team up with a relatively unknown coach by the name of David Leadbetter.
Leadbetter had some rather revolutionary ideas which appealed to Faldo, and soon their partnership grew into a friendship, although that was to sour in later years. Together they deconstructed Faldo’s swing and built a new one capable of surviving the pressures of the closing stages of a major. Leadbetter told him it would take at least a couple of years to yield any results. So Faldo was reluctant to fully embrace what Leadbetter was trying to do initially. But he became determined to see things through. Little by little, he began to show signs of hope. He won the Spanish Open in 1987, which was, in his own words, a “major turning point.”
What fully justified the swing changed he had worked on endlessly with Leadbetter was the ultimate consistency in his game he achieved in the final round of the Open at Muirfield in 1987. He bravely rescued pars from bunkers on the seven, eight and ten holes and made eighteen straight pars under increasing stress to defeat Paul Azinger by one stroke.
Azinger held the lead until the 17th, but again located sand, and was forced to chip out sideways, bogeying this hole. Faldo has split the fairway perfectly on the 18th. He proceeded then to hit a nerveless second shot to within 40 feet of the flag. His first putt was a little shaky, but holed the five-foot return putt.
A par in the last hole would still be good enough for Azinger to force a playoff, but after playing an ideal tee shot, his second was pulled into a greenside bunker. His stance was awkward, so much so that he could only pitch to within 27 feet of the hole, leaving him with an extremely unlikely chance of the par that would equal Faldo’s total of 279 (five under par). Azinger’s putt came up short as he let a major slip through his fingers. “I knew I’d do it. And I knew I had to do it,” said Faldo to the press in the aftermath of his victory, as he joined the illustrious list of former Muirfield winners in Henry Cotton, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Trevino and Watson.
He did not believe in inspiration. He was not imaginative, careless and impulsive like Severiano Ballesteros. He was systematic, slow and predictable. Faldo came close at the United States Open, in 1988, losing to Curtis Strange in a playoff. He won the Masters in 1989, after a playoff with Scott Hoch. The next year, he became the first player since Jack Nicklaus to successfully defend the Masters title, again winning in near darkness on the 11th green after a playoff against Raymond Floyd.
An individualist in his sporting pursuits, he is broadly regarded as the most successful golfer that Britain has produced in the last 70 years. He went on to win two other Opens in 1990 and 1992, and a third Masters in 1996. Only Harry Vardon’s seven majors outstrips Faldo’s achievement. He has played a record of 46 matches in eleven Ryder Cups. He also has the record for most points won (25) and most matches won (23). He was a total of 98 weeks as the world’s number one golfer.
Since July 28, 2001, he has been married to Valerie Bercher. They have one child. He was previously married to Gill Bennett and Melanie Rockall. For his service to golf, Faldo received the Knight Bachelor of the Order of The British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II in November 2009. In the whole history of British sport, Sir Nick is the only living British golfer to receive such an honor.
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005