THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM NICK FALDO, OUR PICK TO WIN AT OAKLAND HILLS, ISN'T AFRAID TO CONTEMPLATE A GRAND SLAM

June 09, 1996

About the only time the issue even comes up is when the new
Masters champion is trying on his green jacket. "Well," pipes
the same guy who always had his hand raised in the fifth grade,
"now we know the only player who has a chance for the Grand
Slam." The conversation will then turn to more plausible
possibilities, like whether Sam Snead will ever win that darn
U.S. Open.

Hey, this isn't tennis. There's hardly anything in sports more
far-fetched than one player's winning the Masters, the U.S.
Open, the British Open and the PGA in one season. Think about
it. As good as they are, does Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples,
Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal or Ben Crenshaw (the five
most recent Masters winners before this year) possess the
necessary combination of ability and temperament to pull off the
modern version of the Impregnable Quadrilateral? The fact is,
the Masters is the only major each of them has ever won. At the
height of their powers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom
Watson all took their best shots at the Grand Slam, and all fell
well short. It ain't gonna happen.

But this year there is, at least, a glimmer of hope. When Nick
Faldo won the Masters, it not only gave him six majors for his
career, but it also reestablished him as the player who had
earned the right to even consider golf's impossible dream. From
1987 through 1992, when Faldo was either winning or in
contention in practically every major, he often spoke of the
Grand Slam as "the ultimate goal." But when he lost his edge
over the succeeding three years, he seemed to be more hubris
than Hogan. Then this April, Faldo mercilessly ran down Greg
Norman with a flawless final-round 67 at Augusta to become once
again king of the hill in the game's greatest events.

"I suppose I'm more capable of doing it than I was before," a
cautious Faldo says of the Slam. "I'm more seasoned, and Augusta
proved the nerve is still there, which was a relief. But it's a
hell of a task. I would think the attention alone would be
overwhelming. The real challenge would be to keep the blinkers
on and approach all four one at a time."

Faldo's next step is the U.S. Open, which begins June 13 at
Oakland Hills. It's a course Faldo has never seen, but that
doesn't seem to bother him. "U.S. Open courses are simple,
aren't they?" he says. "Hit it in the fairway and put it on the
green. No tricks. Just honest, very demanding golf." It's a
recipe for the brand of golf Faldo plays best. Perhaps the
oddest thing about Faldo's major victories is that neither a
U.S. Open nor a PGA--the two championships that most emphasize
straight driving and accurate iron play--is among them. The
Open, with its demand on the most challenging part of golf,
long-iron approach shots, particularly plays to Faldo's strengths.

Faldo has certainly been close at the Open. Indifferent putting
kept him from winning at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.,
in 1988, when he was beaten in a playoff by Curtis Strange. In
1990, at Medinah, outside Chicago, he came within a lipped-out
12-footer on the 72nd green of getting into a playoff with Mike
Donald and eventual winner Hale Irwin. Two years later Faldo was
fourth at Pebble Beach, where his chances were hurt when, in the
second round, his approach shot stayed in a tree on the par-5
14th hole.

Because the U.S. Open is the championship that the 38-year-old
Englishman covets more than any other and because of his proven
ability to peak when it matters most, we have made Faldo our
pick at Oakland Hills. The pursuit of a Grand Slam further
sweetens the pot, a factor that we believe will incite Faldo to
greater heights rather than weigh him down. "I think Nick is
like Jack Nicklaus in that he has just the right blend of
patience, aggressiveness and intelligence for the majors," says
David Leadbetter, Faldo's longtime swing coach. "When he's in
command of his swing, it's an awesome package. If he wins at
Oakland Hills, he's got a great shot at the Grand Slam. He'll
think he can do anything."

In an age when there are more players who can win tournaments
than ever before, winning the modern Grand Slam would surpass
Bobby Jones's 1930 original (U.S. Open, British Open, British
Amateur and U.S. Amateur) and would be exceeded in stature only
by Byron Nelson's 11 straight victories in 1945 and Nicklaus's
record 18 professional major championships. One reason the
modern Slam has been so elusive is that so few of the greats
have had a shot at it. Never mind that the Masters, which began
in 1934, didn't receive major status until the 1950s or that few
Americans played in the British Open until the '60s. Actually,
it was impossible to play in both the British Open and the PGA
until the 1960s because their dates either overlapped or were
too close together. The closest anyone has come to winning the
modern Grand Slam was Ben Hogan in 1953 when he won the Masters,
the U.S. Open and the British Open but did not enter the PGA the
following week because he was returning from Europe by boat.

The modern Slam was really invented in 1960 by Palmer on his
plane ride to St. Andrews for his first British Open. Palmer,
who had already won the Masters and U.S. Open that year, told a
sportswriter, the late Bob Drum, that if he won at St. Andrews,
a victory at the PGA would give him an accomplishment the equal
of Jones's. Drum wrote it, and golf's mission impossible was
born. Palmer came within a stroke of winning that British Open,
finishing second to Kel Nagle, and again came close to the Slam
in 1962. After winning the Masters, Palmer missed an eight-foot
putt on the 71st green at the U.S. Open at Oakmont and a
10-footer on the final hole. He lost the playoff with Nicklaus
the next day. Palmer went on to win the British Open at Troon.
"Arnold is still kind of wistful about both those years,
especially 1962," says Doc Giffin, Palmer's spokesman. "He would
have loved to have gone to the PGA with a chance to win all
four." Of course, Palmer has never won the PGA.

The other great assaults on the Slam have been by Nicklaus. In
1971 he tied for second at the Masters, was second at the U.S.
Open, tied for fifth at the British and won the PGA, the lowest
cumulative finish in the majors. The next year the Bear won the
Masters and the U.S. Open and came to the British Open at
Muirfield--where he had won in 1966--full of confidence. But
Nicklaus developed a stiff neck while sleeping and in the first
three rounds was forced to restrain his swing. He finally felt
better on Sunday, took the lead briefly on the back nine but
bogeyed the par-3 16th and eventually lost by one to Lee
Trevino. Nicklaus had one more run in 1975. After winning the
Masters, he was a stroke behind at Medinah with three holes to
go but bogeyed in and tied for seventh. He finished a stroke out
of a playoff at the British Open and won the PGA.

"In those days the Grand Slam was my goal at the start of every
year," Nicklaus says. "That's why I always used to feel like my
year was over when I didn't win at Augusta. I knew I had the
ability, but an awful lot of things had to go right. I still
believe it can be done, but the challenges are enormous. It's
very difficult to get your game in top form for four different
weeks for four different styles of golf courses, all of which
probably don't suit you. No matter how much ability you have,
you have to have a lot of luck." Nicklaus believes that only two
current players, Norman and Faldo, are capable of pulling it
off. Norman made a great run in 1986, when he led each major
going into the last round and finished tied for second at
Augusta, was 12th at the U.S. Open, won the British Open and was
second at the PGA.

Faldo is a subtly different, and arguably better, player now
than he was in the early '90s. Since making the U.S. his base in
1995 and playing regularly on the PGA Tour, Faldo has become a
more powerful, aggressive player who may not be as consistent
but whose best is better than it has ever been. He also has
shaken off the influences of playing full time in Europe, where
inclement weather and poor conditions encourage shorter swings
and lower ball flights, and where bumpy greens often engender a
defensive approach to putting to avoid four-foot comebackers for
par. In the generally better weather found in the U.S., Faldo is
making a freer swing that produces more length (a metal-headed
driver has also helped) and a higher trajectory on his approach
shots. On the best greens in the world Faldo has become a bolder
putter. "You get more targeted with your irons in America," he
says. "I'm also trying to hit longer drives, and I have a better
attitude with my putting. I go for the first putt and, if I
don't get the one coming back, tough. You have to take that
approach because the winning scores are so low."

In the quest for more birdies Faldo this spring instituted a
running bet with Fanny Sunesson, his longtime caddie. If Faldo
makes a par or worse, he has to pay. Sunesson pays twice as
much, but only when Faldo makes a birdie or better. To win any
money, Faldo has to make at least six birdies per round. "It's
been expensive, but it's good conditioning," he says.

Faldo is also free from the fear of failure. When he played in
Europe, a poor finish generated headlines. In the U.S., Faldo's
week-to-week progress is less scrutinized. "In Europe I would
get protective about having a good week because I knew what the
reaction would be if I didn't, and it might have made me too
conservative at times," he says. "In America if I miss the cut,
I don't get any stick."

With a season to acclimate to the PGA Tour under his belt and
his personal life on a more even keel now that he has formally
split from his wife, Gill, and gone public with his relationship
with Brenna Cepelak, Faldo came into 1996 eager to play. At the
first tournament of the year, the Mercedes Championships at La
Costa in Carlsbad, Calif., he had a revelation. "It sort of
dawned on me that week," he says. "I should just go for broke,
no matter what happens. It gave me this nice feeling of
freedom." That philosophy was validated at Augusta. "Since
winning the Masters, I can have a free run at the rest of the
season," Faldo says. "I can put my record on the wall and no one
can take it away, so I'm using that as a buffer. Winning at
Augusta has just made me want to work harder because now I think
I can do it again."

If Faldo does it again at Oakland Hills, things will get
serious. He knows his concentration and patience will be tested.
But as a player whose motivation is to make history, he would
like nothing more than that sort of challenge. "The key will be
to keep everything simple," Faldo says. "No matter what's going
on around you, what matters is thinking properly. At the end of
the day, that's all you can do in golf--hit each shot with the
right intentions."

Faldo's intentions when it comes to the majors and, yes, the
Grand Slam, are very clear.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID CANNON/ALLSPORT Faldo will not rest until he wins the U.S. Open, the title he covets most. [Nick Faldo] B/W PHOTO: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN Palmer (above) defined the modern Grand Slam in 1960, and Nicklaus nearly accomplished it in '75. [Arnold Palmer] COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [See caption above--Jack Nicklaus] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Nicklaus: Only Norman and Faldo can hit a Slam. [Greg Norman and Nick Faldo]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)