In­ter­view – Sir Nick Faldo

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Louie Chan

The six-time Ma­jor cham­pion talks about his dark days in the 80s, achieve­ments of win­ning six Ma­jors and the La­guna Golf Lang Cô, his sec­ond de­sign in Viet­nam.

The six-time Ma­jor cham­pion talks to Louie Chan about how he picked up the golf game, his dark days in the 80s, sin­gle-mind­ed­ness ap­proach, Ry­der Cup ex­pe­ri­ences, achieve­ments of win­ning six Ma­jors, the suc­ces­ful Faldo Se­ries and the La­guna Golf Lang Cô, his sec­ond de­sign in Viet­nam.

We all know the story. You’re watch­ing Jack Nick­laus fin­ish run­ner-up at the 1971 Mas­ters, and that in­spired you to pick up the game?

Sir Nick Faldo: I was look­ing for a sport. That’s my line. I played every­thing at school. I did cy­cling out of school, I went for ten­nis les­sons, and they said you’re too tall back then and, in that era, you’re meant to be Rod Laver size. There were th­ese guys in fancy colours around th­ese trees. I love trees, and I wanted an out­door job and to be my boss. Those were my two rules, and so there was a new sport to try.

So, I went to my mum the next morn­ing and said, “To­day, I want to try golf.” They knew about Wel­wyn Gar­den City Golf Club, and so they took me, and I wan­dered into the pro-shop and booked my six les­sons from the as­sis­tant pro, Chris Arnold. I said, “Right I’m ready”, and he said, “No, your first one is to­mor­row”. So, what I learned from that now, es­pe­cially with th­ese kids, is that he in­stalled dis­ci­pline be­cause the first les­son was the grip and the sec­ond was pos­ture. The third les­son was align­ment. I hadn’t hit a ball yet. Fi­nally, on the fourth les­son, I hit a ball. Now, if any­body wants to learn, they hit a ball within 3 se­conds. Show me that, give me a go. Un­be­knownst to me, he in­stalled that dis­ci­pline of what it takes to build all of the fun­da­men­tals.

I started prac­tis­ing, and my next-door neigh­bour gave me a club, a 7-iron with plas­tic over the shaft. I rum­maged through the bushes and found 20 golf balls. My mum was a dress­maker, so she made me a lit­tle prac­tice bag, and that was it. I used to sneak over to the school near me and to hit balls down the line of the foot­ball pitches, and there was a long jump pit at the end. I used to hit th­ese 7 or 8 irons into this long jump pit, and I would be cross if I missed it. I went back 10 years later, and that long jump pit was 12-foot-wide and 20-foot-long, and I’m an­noyed I’m miss­ing that from 100 yards. The bot­tom line is, I fell in love with golf very quickly.

I played my first round of golf on my 14th birth­day, so I had prac­tised for 3 months be­fore I played my first round of golf. So, I had got past shank­ing, top­ping, miss­ing and I could play. I think I shot in the low 80’s for my first round. I didn’t know the rules; I lost a ball what did that mean. I re­mem­ber 3-putting the third and think­ing that was stupid; I’ll never do that again. And so, I could at least play. By

15 I fell in love with it and, at 16, I left school. It was an amaz­ing de­ci­sion by my par­ents, con­sid­er­ing where we had come from. To say fine let him leave school and head to the prac­tice ground. My par­ents gave me that amaz­ing trust and, as my mother said, she knew me. She knew I would head to the prac­tise ground rain or shine or any­thing and beat golf balls. I started play­ing am­a­teur tour­na­ments and started win­ning them. 1975 was my big year when I won the English Am­a­teur, Bri­tish Youths and Berk­shire Tro­phy. By the old hand­i­cap sys­tem, at the start of the year I was at 3, and by the end of the year, I was at +1. Only Sandy Lyle and I were plus in the whole coun­try with the old sys­tem. I played for Great Bri­tain by the end of the year, so that was my rapid start to golf.

Did the dis­ci­pline that you had at an early age make the de­ci­sion eas­ier to change every­thing re­gard­ing your swing while in the midst of your pro­fes­sional ca­reer to get to the very top of the sport? SNF:

Yes, I mean you fast for­ward to the end of 84, and I was Euro­pean num­ber 1 in 83. I won 5 times that year, and then I was win­ning ev­ery year sort of thing. Ob­vi­ously, I had blown up at the open at Birk­dale. Fi­nally, I went down to South Africa in 84, and a light­bulb came on. It said: “You haven’t got it mate. This is not good enough”. This was when I met up with David Lead­bet­ter. I chat­ted with a cou­ple of other coaches be­fore that, but David was the one that started talk­ing about this ro­ta­tion thing. He said, if we get this right, we can solve 6 prob­lems here with one fix, and off we go.

So, I thought about it, and it wasn’t un­til May 85’, I was in Muir­field Vil­lage and missed the cut and couldn’t hit the 12th green. I had dou­bled the 12th twice, and ‘Lead’ was there. I said, “Right, I’m ready to start.” And that was it, we started. It wasn’t so much a stupid de­ci­sion, but it was stupid tim­ing, ridicu­lous. To change your back­swing in the mid­dle of the sea­son is like learn­ing to throw darts and you’ve only learnt the back­swing. And of course, this didn’t fit, so I started hit­ting it ev­ery­where, every­thing went wrong. I started play­ing badly, re­ally badly. In that 80’s me­dia time, I got mur­dered, and those were the dark days as I call them.

I was beat­ing balls like you couldn’t be­lieve. I went through the rest of the sea­son and then went to Florida to hit balls with him. He was at this lit­tle place called Green­leaf some­where south of Or­lando in the mid­dle of a for­est and hit hun­dreds and thou­sands of golf balls a day. I went through all of that in the dark days. I lost spon­sors through that but, amaz­ingly, I kept my be­lief and de­ter­mi­na­tion. I don’t know how. I guess I could thank my mum for the de­ter­mi­na­tion to keep go­ing and fi­nally came out of it in Spring 1987.

Do you think that ex­pe­ri­ence con­trib­uted to mak­ing you such a steely com­peti­tor? SNF:

I’m an only child and went to hit loads of balls on the prac­tice ground on my own and been happy as a sand­boy all day long. I could en­ter­tain my­self, me and my imag­i­nary friends, Jack, Arnold, Lee and Gary, and go off and play against them. In that era, you had to look af­ter your­self, and it was tough. Money was tight and to have your room when you were out on tour was deemed as a lux­ury rather than shar­ing. We had to start off shar­ing, which my dad thought was im­por­tant. I went off when it was still in that era where you would go to the

bar at the end of the round, but I would go to the prac­tice range in­stead, as I wasn’t deemed one of the lads.

An­other in­ter­est­ing thing from that era was what we called, ‘keep­ing it close to your chest’. My dad told me when he played for Eng­land that Eric Bris­tow didn’t stay in the Eng­land ho­tel. He stayed in his one down the road. He said the day they know every­thing about me is the day they will beat me. Back at that time, I took it and said, “OK, that works for him, that’s in­ter­est­ing”. You kept your cards close to your chest and put your bar­ri­ers up in some way. I think every­body did it: Seve, Greg and all of us did.

The other thing I talk about is that to change your life­style then you had to win. My first goal was to turn left on the plane into first class; it was my fi­nan­cial goal. Then I wanted to buy my first house, but you have to win to do this. You win £5,000, and the big­gest prize then was £10,000 on the PGA. I won 5 times for £100,000 in 1983. I made the 1977 Ry­der cup team with £7,000. Way back then, buy­ing your first house was I think £60,000. My dad put in £20,000, and I was think­ing, how many times have I got to win to get £40,000 af­ter tax? If you wanted a Mercedes car, you had to go and win. Same goes for a fam­ily and chil­dren; the only way to put them into pri­vate school was to go out and win.

It’s very dif­fer­ent now. You can­not win and, if you have a good char­ac­ter, you can prob­a­bly earn £10 mil­lion with­out win­ning a tour­na­ment, but you are mar­ketable. You are fly­ing pri­vately to ev­ery event, what­ever car you want. So, if you win, it doesn’t change your life. But back then, I had to de­fend my­self against Seve and Greg, plus it was the only way I knew how to play. My other de­fence in all of that was that I thought the best way to play was to head down and blink­ers on and that’s how I felt. I even felt if I bounced out of that to re­act to some­body or some­thing, it up­set me, and it shouldn’t have be­cause I had a steel trap of a mind. So that was the Faldo golf mode, head down blink­ers on.

How did this sin­gle-mind­ed­ness come to bear in the Ry­der Cup, which, of course, brought out some of the most amaz­ing per­for­mances of your ca­reer? SNF:

The Ry­der Cup is a team of two. You’re 12 in a team room, and all get on, which we did be­cause it was a fan­tas­tic at­mos­phere, and every­body was pulling for each other. But when you go out to play, it’s a team of two. It’s you and your part­ner, and your two cad­dies against those two guys. That and you’re play­ing for a point, no prize money, so it was sheer guts.

If you didn’t walk to that first tee think­ing there was a way to win, you shouldn’t have been walk­ing to the tee, es­pe­cially if you weren’t feel­ing good. But if you were feel­ing great, you wanted to get to the first tee and get on with it. I’ve walked many times to that tee, and you’re not play­ing good, but you’ve got to mus­cle through it and find a way to make it hap­pen. So that’s why the Ry­der cup has this sheer, raw com­pet­i­tive­ness spirit which makes it so fan­tas­tic. I knew it was so im­por­tant that you had to win your sin­gles on Sun­day as well, and ob­vi­ously, I loved the Ry­der cup be­cause of that.

I know I let my guard down and Seve let his guard down, and you helped every­body. If any­body wanted a putting les­son or you saw some­one’s’ swing a lit­tle off, you’re go­ing to say so. The at­mos­phere was great in that era when

we started to turn things around in 83, 85, 87 and 89. That was the run that changed the whole course of the Ry­der Cup about.

When you re­flect back on your play­ing ca­reer, what stands out the most? SNF:

What I’m most proud of is achiev­ing my goal of win­ning Ma­jors. You pre­pare for the Ma­jors. The first Ma­jor you win, you feel there’s some­thing in the air. You get a sense. I said a cou­ple months be­fore my first one at Muir­field, af­ter I won in Spain and the re­build had come good, I said to my­self, “Oh I need to win one more, so I am ready for the Open”. Then, I got this sense and said to my­self, “No, you’re al­right. You’re ready to win the Open”. I had all of th­ese great vi­su­al­i­sa­tions and im­ages be­fore­hand. The strong­est one was sit­ting at the end of it and think­ing, I won’t be pack­ing Sun­day night as I’ll be sit­ting at break­fast with the Claret Jug do­ing the BBC wel­come to Muir­field. That was great.

My first Mas­ters was a weird one. I ar­rived play­ing well, but I couldn’t fin­ish any­thing off. I would get an eight at the wrong time and end up 40th or 50th, but I was play­ing good. I was on the putting green, and Jack’s al­ways nice, he asked, “How you do­ing, how you play­ing?” I said: “Well, I’m play­ing good Jack, but I keep screw­ing up ev­ery week. I don’t know whether to let it hap­pen or make it hap­pen.” So, Jack said: “I know ex­actly what you mean,” and just walks off. I wanted to say, “Jack fill in the blank, which one is it?” But I guess I let it hap­pen. I know that as I was go­ing down the 10th hole, af­ter 27 holes of the tour­na­ment and lead­ing by three, and I tried to make it hap­pen. I had shot 6-un­der the first 27 and then 9-over for the next 27. Then I shot the crazy 65 on Sun­day, and I win the Mas­ters, bang. Af­ter that, what I’m proud of, in 1990, I for­get about de­fend­ing the Mas­ters and in­stead tried to win an­other one. “Come on, you can do it,” I said to my­self. And so, I did.

My iron shots were amaz­ing, and that put me on a hell of a run. I won that, hit the hole at the US Open [miss­ing out on the spot in the play­off by a sin­gle shot], and I went to St An­drews on a mis­sion to win there af­ter that. I also went to Muir­field in 92’ with the in­ten­tion to win be­cause I was World No.1, feel­ing good and had just won three ma­jors, which is dif­fer­ent to just think­ing, I feel good this week. But 1990 is the proud­est year of my ca­reer. It’s dif­fer­ent to walk down the fair­way with the in­ten­tion to win, even more so with the in­ten­tion to win at a Ma­jor and I did that through­out that year.

Who is stand­ing out for you at the mo­ment in world golf? SNF:

Wow, the top end is pretty good, and they all shuf­fle around. When they’re on it’s a flip of a coin. For my TV role, when Spi­eth is off, I look at why he is off, maybe a tech­ni­cal thing. Same if Rory is off, maybe it’s be­cause there is no spring in his step and the emo­tional side. Ja­son Day? Phys­i­cally he can be off. We look to see where their weak­nesses are. Not in a neg­a­tive way but just to see where they are dif­fer­ent. Rory had an in­cred­i­ble run, four Ma­jors in 5 min­utes and now the next one is go­ing to be re­ally hard work to get across the line. Now we have Justin Thomas hot in a role against Dustin John­son and some young­sters com­ing through. Tommy Fleet­wood for Europe and Hat­ton who will be new names for the Ry­der Cup.

With the Ry­der Cup soon, do you think there has been a bit of a shift in how the US seems to have a new vi­brancy in the team? SNF:

What they have found is part­ner­ships. Amaz­ingly, when Phil Mick­el­son and Kee­gan Bradley had their great run to­gether and won 3 out of their 4 matches, they were sec­ond on the list of great­est part­ner­ships, with Arnold Palmer and Gard­ner Dickinson be­ing top back in the 60’s. But that was back at Me­d­i­nah. Now the USA have found some new part­ner­ships. But Europe has a great back­bone and are pretty bal­anced again af­ter peo­ple thought it might be one-sided af­ter the Pres­i­dents Cup. Paris in Septem­ber could be 60-odd de­grees, a bit of rain and crois­sants fly­ing ev­ery­where. They want 65,000 peo­ple in there for 4 matches so that it will be busy.

Tough Course? SNF:

Yeah that golf course can play tough es­pe­cially in Septem­ber with a big old bit of Euro­pean wind which could play in our favour. We have a re­ally good back­bone which is the most im­por­tant thing, and then hope­fully you have a few rook­ies who have a blinder.

The Faldo Se­ries has been some­thing that has ma­te­ri­alised over the past few years. How far do you want to take that and where do you want to go next? SNF:

Well, things are go­ing well. We’ve done 20-plus years of the se­ries and have taken it all over the world, lit­er­ally global. And I’ve cre­ated this new event, the Ma­jor Cham­pi­ons In­vi­ta­tional, so I’m chuffed about that. I’ve made some­thing hap­pen, brought to­gether Ma­jor Cham­pi­ons with a real ve­hi­cle. Rory will pick play­ers from his foun­da­tion, as will Adam Scott in Aus­tralia and An­nika Soren­stam from all four cor­ners of the world - the same as I will do from my se­ries and my se­ries win­ners. With this event, we Ma­jor Cham­pi­ons have a cool op­por­tu­nity to say to ju­nior golfers, “I have my eyes on you”. So, this kid can be think­ing, wow, Adam Scott thinks I’m a good golfer. We’ve cre­ated this event, and I hope it’s suc­cess­ful and ev­ery­one says they want to come back next year and that it be­comes in­stantly recog­nis­able, which it should do with all the me­dia at­ten­tion be­cause of its unique­ness. I hope that the kids who win peo­ple will know that boy and that girl won the Ma­jor Cham­pi­ons In­vi­ta­tional, they are off and run­ning in their golf ca­reers. I said to my­self when you think of it, Sa­muel Ry­der started a pretty darn good even, and he was a seed mer­chant in St Al­bans, and Karsten Sol­heim cre­ated the women’s ver­sion, so why can’t there be a Faldo event of that mag­ni­tude in 20 years’ time.

The Faldo Se­ries has taken place in Hong Kong for sev­eral years, how im­por­tant has this been for golf out there? SNF:

Tom Philips was my se­ries di­rec­tor, and he car­ried it through to out there. The great thing about my event is that the kids want to play it and are mo­ti­vated to, and this is par­tic­u­larly true of Hong Kong. The most grat­i­fy­ing thing to me is hear­ing about young golfers who travel be­cause they want to make the teams across Asia. It’s a sim­i­lar story in Europe where my son Matthew man­ages the Czech Repub­lic, Poland, Ger­many and Slo­vakia. The great thing is, if the kids don’t qual­ify for one event, they jump into their car and travel to the next. The kids want to win and want to come to the Grand Fi­nal, and that’s the best com­pli­ment I can get.

It doesn’t look like you have stopped with the golf course de­sign here at La­guna Lăng Cô. It looks like a con­tin­u­ous push for the end goal.

SNF: With this one, I started com­ing back for all sorts of rea­sons. Ei­ther to do some­thing busi­ness-wise here and then we kept com­ing back for the golf, and then we brought the Faldo Se­ries here, so I’ve been com­ing back to this lo­ca­tion al­most twice a year for about six or seven years, and we can keep ad­just­ing the golf course. Keep fine-tun­ing. This thing is alive, and you don’t know when you put the golf course in what grass will grow and what won’t. The jun­gle does this and that and all sorts of things.

What features stand out on this par­tic­u­lar course?

SNF: The coolest thing is how unique it is. When you tour it, you start in rice fields, and the great thing about this is that it’s bring­ing it all back to the vi­sion we had. It’s a tough project. It’s money, it’s time and work­ing hours, but we are bring­ing to life those first four holes through the rice fields. Then you go through a bit of jun­gle, so that’s dif­fer­ent. Then you pop out on what was a lovely sand­bar, a ridge that we placed a green on top of, very Aussie-style. Then we have the beach, so that’s an­other en­vi­ron­ment. Not many golf cour­ses have so many dif­fer­ent vis­ual or en­vi­ron­men­tal changes which I think gives La­guna LÛang Cô good mem­o­ra­bil­ity. I would like peo­ple to be able to re­mem­ber each hole. They all have their char­ac­ter.

Can you give us any in­sight into plans that you have or any changes?

SNF: Just tin­ker­ing and putting new bunkers in. We’re putting a new bunker in on the third. They’ve done a great job of clear­ing it out, and it’s re­ally come alive. It was too dif­fi­cult pre­vi­ously. There was rough that was like a wire brush, so I said: “Blitz it! Get rid of every­thing and give the golfers a chance. Blitz it all out the back of 5, 6 and 7 and make them look cool”. T. We ac­tu­ally might build an­other fun par-3 left of num­ber 9, so we could shut down a hole with con­di­tion­ing in mind from time to time, and golfers can play an­other fun lit­tle par-3 along the beach which would be very good.

Do you feel quite at home here now at La­guna Lăng Cô?

SNF: Yeah, I en­joy it here. I’m very lucky I get treated like roy­alty. This is al­most like my own pri­vate ho­tel (the Banyan Tree, Angsana and La­guna Park res­i­dences). It’s re­ally cool to come back to wait­ers and wait­resses who know what I want. I can say, “My usual please,” even though I’ve been gone for six months. The qual­ity of life here is pretty darn good. I’ve got a beau­ti­ful villa on top of the rocks up there, you’ve got the spa ap­point­ments, and you can come here and switch off.

What are you go­ing to do to switch off when you’re here?

SNF: If I get time then the spa, I love to spa. I have a busy sea­son with TV, and it’s all go right now. I’ve al­ready planned my month in Mon­tana for Septem­ber, so that I can dis­ap­pear. Golf­ing, fish­ing and bik­ing. Lots of scenery and watch the sun rise and set. For more in­for­ma­tion about golf and res­i­dences at La­guna Lăng Cô, please visit

www.la­gu­nalangco.com

Not many golf cour­ses have so many dif­fer­ent vis­ual or en­vi­ron­men­tal changes like La­guna *ROI /DÛQJ &{ GHVLJQHG by Sir Nick Faldo

Can the Faldo Se­ries be­come an event of the same mag­ni­tude as the Ry­der/Sol­heim &XS LQ \HDUV· WLPH"

Faldo chats with his cad­die Ryan Shaw on the first green dur­ing WKH 0DVWHUV

Faldo’s sin­gle-mind­ed­ness DSSURDFK FDPH WR EHDU LQ WKH 5\GHU &XS which brought out some RI WKH PRVW DPD]LQJ SHUIRUPDQFHV RI KLV FDUHHU

"I’m very lucky I get treated like roy­alty. This is al­most like my RZQ SULYDWH KRWHO

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