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The Devil Made Him Do It Nick Faldo sacrificed his life for his game, and now he has neither

April 19, 1999
April 19, 1999

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April 19, 1999

The Devil Made Him Do It Nick Faldo sacrificed his life for his game, and now he has neither

The Devil said to Nick Faldo, "I'll grant you these wishes, but
they come at a price."

This is an article from the April 19, 1999 issue Original Layout

Faldo responded, "I'll pay any price."

It was 1985, and the 27-year-old Faldo was in that state to
which golf reduces most men. He was frustrated, angry and
jealous of the success of others. Faldo's game was formidable
but not top rung. His shots ballooned in the wind. His swing
broke down under pressure. He had let the 1983 British Open
wriggle out of his grasp, and the London tabloids derided him as
FOLDO.

So the Devil visited Faldo in his modest home in a London suburb.
The hedgerows were heavy with new growth and the spring flowers
were in bloom, but Faldo was not the sort to stop and smell the
roses. He eagerly accepted the Devil's terms.

Now it's 1999, and Faldo is in torment. He has lost his second
wife to divorce, along with his three children and his mansion
in Windlesham. His nearly $600,000-a-year club endorsement
contract with Mizuno has expired. He has seen his 900,000 shares
of Adams Golf stock fall from a high of $18.88 to $4.06 a share
at week's end. He has lost his American girlfriend, who
expressed her disapproval of his Faustian bargain by smashing
the bonnet of his Porsche with a nine-iron. Finally--and this is
the hell of it--he has lost his skills. Last week Faldo shot
80-73 at the Masters and missed the cut for the third straight
year.

Some will argue that Faldo's pain is self-inflicted. He chose to
leave his wife and children in England when he moved to Florida
in 1995 to play on the PGA Tour. He chose to have a relationship
with a college coed 18 years his junior. He chose, last summer,
to fire David Leadbetter, the golf coach who made his swing so
effective that it won him three claret jugs and three green
jackets.

Did the Devil make him rude? His playing companions said Faldo
made the grim Ben Hogan look affable. Faldo yelled at marshals
and scowled at photographers, and when he was given a chance to
be gracious, after winning the 1992 British Open at Muirfield,
he thanked the media "from the bottom of my, well, from my
bottom, maybe." Little wonder that he still plays his practice
rounds alone, trailed by one of the few remaining persons
willing to share his blighted life--caddie Fanny Sunesson. An
employee.

But isn't that how the Devil works? He shows you how to get what
you want and grins while you destroy yourself in the pursuit of
your goal. In Faldo's case, the Devil said, "You can have it
all. Just let nothing and nobody stand in your way." Following
this advice, Faldo mastered the golf swing but mismanaged his
life; disciplined his nerves but disrupted his family; reached
for greatness but overreached and fell.

If the third ring of hell doesn't include a double-dogleg par-5,
it's only because Dante never met Faldo. Faldo can no longer
putt. He can no longer chip. When he hits an approach shot, he
often yanks it left or airmails the green. His last win was the
1997 Nissan Open, but that victory now seems the work of another
man. This Faldo--the one suffering from Baker-Finch
syndrome--finished 163rd on last year's money list, has
plummeted to 99th in the world rankings and is 28 over par in
his last six rounds at Augusta. At this year's Players
Championship, Faldo shot a third-round 83 and then got
disqualified the next day when he hit his ball into a tree and
misinterpreted rule 27 (the lost ball rule). Afterward he said,
"I wish there were no tomorrow."

Judging from Faldo's Masters performance, the Devil was listening.

Three years ago, after shooting a final-round 67 to overtake a
collapsing Greg Norman at Augusta, Faldo stepped out of
character and hugged the loser on the 18th green. "I honestly,
genuinely felt sorry for him," Faldo said afterward. Later that
year Faldo's countrymen rewarded him with ovations when he
finished fourth in the Open at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's.

But that was the Devil again, showing Faldo what could have
been. On Sunday the supposedly shattered Norman was back at
center stage, drawing roars of approval with his final-nine
charge at Jose Maria Olazabal. Faldo, meanwhile, was gone and
forgotten. Before he left on Friday, a reporter asked Faldo if
any of his European-tour colleagues had offered him
encouragement during his stunning decline. "Nobody's offered
any," Faldo said, "and I wouldn't want it if they did."

It was a bitter exit, but you could almost hear a faint cackle
of laughter--not Faldo's--on the freshening breeze.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN He has lost his second wife to divorce. He has lost his girlfriend. Finally, he has lost his playing skills.