ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The world will come to like Nick Faldo. It’s either that, or turn off the TV set for the next few years. So what if he plays like a dentist: drill, rinse, spit? Since when does a clinical victory count less than the others?
Faldo is the king of golf, the best in the world. He proved that emphatically Sunday with his victory at this 119th British Open; in truth, he has been proving it the last few years. You measure the great ones in the big events and no one does big better than Major Nick. So what if the last compelling thing he said was, “Mom, I’m gonna be a golfer”?
Consider this: Faldo has won two majors this year and tied for third in the other. He has finished in the top four of more than half of the U.S. and British Opens, Masters and PGAs played since 1987. He has two green jackets from Augusta and two silver trophies from the Royal and Ancient, and if not for a lipped-out putt on the last hole at Medinah last month he might have a U.S. Open in his bag as well. Now. Are you gonna belittle that because he likes to hit down the middle of the fairway?
People do. They knocked the 18 straight pars he made in winning the 1987 British Open. They claimed Ray Floyd lost the 1990 Masters more than Faldo won it. Reporters here hiss behind his back, particularly the tabloid chaps, who tab him boring, aloof, rude. Of course, these are the same guys who write
“MONKEY GIVES BIRTH TO ALIEN.”
“I’m just trying to let my golf speak for itself,” Faldo said Sunday after blitzing the oldest course in the world. His golf speaks all right. It sings. It sounds a little like Muzak, but it sings. Blessed cursed? with talent
Here’s the problem: Faldo is cursed with so much talent, he makes golf look easy. Anyone who has ever hacked his way through a Sunday afternoon knows how ingratiating that can be. But if you know how easy it is to hook a drive, then you must appreciate how straight Faldo hits his. If you know how easily a putter wiggles, you must appreciate Faldo’s 20-foot rolls to the cup. Once you think about all that can go wrong with a golf shot, you can only marvel at how rarely it happens to this 33- year-old Brit. Steady? Faldo reminds me of that Robert Duvall character in “Apocalypse Now” who walks between the dropping bombs and never even ducks.
Here, before the ghosts who invented the game, Major Nick marched from tee to green, tee to green. He made the Old Course look like a pitch-and-putt. Along the way to his record 18-under-par total, he was threatened only by the NFL’s official entry, Payne Stewart, whose knickered outfit Sunday suggested a walking American flag. Stewart closed to within two strokes on the 12th hole. But on the 13th, he drove into the bunker — “the first time I’d done that all week” — and took a bogey.
Interesting. Why does that always happen to guys like Stewart, a perennial second-place finisher who tied for second Sunday? And why, at nearly the same moment, did Faldo hit his approach shot on 12 and see it bounce and spin back toward the hole, allowing him to save par and increase his lead? It’s more than luck, folks. It’s a champion’s touch. And the world will have to accept that Faldo has more of it than anyone else.
He may lack the flair of a Greg Norman, or the charm of a Lee Trevino. But you wouldn’t ask a great heart surgeon to juggle the aorta just to keep it interesting. Uh-uh. You let him operate and pay him when he’s done.
‘Really a dream come true’
Actually, Faldo — who took his lumps from the English press even last week, when one paper quoted American Scott Hoch as saying Nick “needs a charisma transplant” — did a great PR job in his victory poses. He pulled his wife and two kids into all the snapshots. He gave his caddie, a woman named Fanny Sunesson, a peck on the cheek, which I guess is what you call kissing your Fanny.
“After the missed putt at the U.S. Open I dreamed about winning here,” he said. “One time I dreamed I would be leading after the third round. Another time I dreamed I would walk up to the final hole leading by four. To come over that bridge to the 18th . . . this really is a dream come true.”
Nothing wrong with that quote. People swooned a lot last week over Norman, but the fact is, Saturday, when Norman and Faldo played together, the Australian was a mere shrimp on the barbie. Faldo made him look like a kid. And when the tournament was over and he tied for sixth, Norman, Mr. Charisma, refused to speak to the press.
In time, the rest of the world will catch up with all this. There’s nothing
really unlikable about Faldo, and his legend grows with every big win. The British announcers call him “the clinical assassin.” Dan Jenkins, the Texas-born golf writer, says, “He can golf that ball.” The highest compliment may have come Sunday morning, when the local betting parlors refused to take any wagers on Faldo. Too much of a sure thing.
“Am I the dominant golfer now?” Faldo said, when asked. “I don’t know. I’ve won four majors, two this year. . . . I’ll just let the paperwork
(media) take care of itself.”
The paperwork has little choice. The king of golf is a Harrison Ford look-a-like with a big-game swing and a dentist- office precision. And the PGA is his next stop. Hey, Shoal Creek. Open up and say “ahh.”