HONORING THE EFFORT NICK FALDO WON THE HEARTS OF BRITONS BY REACHING FOR THE GAME'S HIGHEST PRIZE

July 28, 1996

The British are in love with Nick Faldo, the player they used to
hate. The toffs love him and tap their spoons approvingly on
teacups. The yobbos love him and cry, "Croosh 'em, Nickie," from
the beer tents. So partisan were the crowds at Royal Lytham and
St. Annes, where Faldo struggled to catch America's Tom Lehman
on Sunday, that you expected to see some boozy Manchester United
fan pick up Faldo's ball and carry it to the hole.

"I can feel the support," Faldo said on Thursday, "and I
appreciate it."

He did not, however, offer to analyze it. Which is
understandable. When you've been derided by your countrymen as
"Nick Foldo" and turned into sensational fodder by your nation's
tabloids, you're not about to question unqualified love.

But when his head hit the pillow on Sunday night, England's
greatest living player must have wondered what he had done to
gain his country's affection. Was it quitting England, with its
high taxes, and moving to Florida? Was it criticizing the
European tour for its backwardness and joining the richer
American circuit? Was it, in the end, the simple expedient of
divorcing his English family and taking up with an American
college girl?

No.

The answer to the Faldo paradox suggested itself Saturday
evening at the Royal Lytham practice range. The sun cast shadows
as long as an enemy's memory, and only two men were still at
work: Faldo, on the far left, and Jack Nicklaus, in the center.

Americans of a certain age might smile knowingly. Nicklaus, like
Faldo, was once unpopular. Like Faldo, he worked to win over a
critical public and a skeptical press. Some would say that Faldo
has gone further than Nicklaus in humanizing himself--Jack
learned to look a person in the eye when he spoke and to
remember names, but he would never hang from a branch and yell
like Tarzan, as Faldo did when his ball went up a tree at the
1992 U.S. Open. But both made an effort to make themselves
"lovable."

Another thing the two men share is an almost religious regard
for the major championships. Nicklaus's dedication to the Big
Four is legendary and helps explain why he has won 18 of them,
more than any other player. Faldo's passion for big titles is
similarly outsized. In 1984, when he had already won nine
European tour events, Faldo junked his swing and started
building another with his coach, David Leadbetter. Why? Because
Faldo believed that he hit the ball too high to win on the
traditionally windy venues of the British Open. With his
revamped swing he has won the British three times and had five
other top-10 finishes, including his fourth-place on Sunday.

More recently, Faldo noticed that three of the four majors are
played on U.S. soil. So he moved onto U.S. soil. He believes
that putting on fast American greens and competing against
deeper American fields will help him win the two major titles he
does not yet own: the U.S. Open (best finish: second, with
three top-five finishes in 10 tries) and the PGA Championship
(best finish: a tie for second, with four top fives in 14
tries). Those who doubt that he would join the PGA Tour just to
improve his chances in those two tournaments need only look back
to 1992, when Faldo added two African tournaments to his summer
schedule to acclimatize himself to the steamy weather expected
in St. Louis, site of that year's PGA.

Did Faldo consciously imitate Nicklaus? It's hard to say. The
Englishman stopped hitting balls on Saturday night and stared at
the preoccupied Nicklaus as if something significant could be
learned from the back of the 56-year-old golfer. A good guess is
that both players somehow stumbled onto the same great secret:
Those who honor the game by reaching for its highest prizes
ultimately win our hearts.

The British may see it differently. But then, love is blind.

COLOR PHOTO: MATTHEW HARRIS [Nick Faldo]

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