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Sir Nick

Six-time major tournament victor, and winner of 43 tournaments worldwide, Nick Faldo is enjoying his new role as a TV commentator
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
George Lopez, January/February 2010

On a glorious Sunday afternoon in April of 1996, Nick Faldo completed an improbable comeback to win the Masters, the sixth and last of his major tournament victories. He had reeled in Greg Norman from six shots behind, once again putting his steel hammer down with a final round 67. The collapsible Norman shot 78.

It was a methodical, focused, strategic victory, the sort that we had come to expect from a player whose public persona was defined bysteely resolve, relentless pursuit and a competitor's cold heart. For Norman it was yet another fall from the carousel horse as he lunged for the brass ring, another major disappointment in a career marked as much by flameout as success.

Then came the unexpected. On the 18th green of Augusta National, his sword returned to his scabbard after the slaying, Nick Faldo gave Greg Norman a big, warm, bear-like hug. We hadn't been prepared for this. Nothing in Faldo's professional career had ever suggested that when he was done with his work, when he had dispatched his opponent, when he had reached the end of his tunnel and took hold of the trophy, that there was room for affection. But there he was, a rivulet of tear down his face, wrapping up Norman to express his condolences at having ripped the Green Jacket right off his back.

There was a chink in the armor of the Iron Chest, and through it shown a ray of humanity. In his fuller life, maybe this was who he was. "Certainly I had the reputation on the golf course that people assumed that was what I was off the golf course," says Faldo in an interview. "Obviously I was a dedicated guy. I honestly believed there was a window when you can compete. You know, one of my lines was I didn't want to get to 45 and wish I had done more or given more. I am sure there are plenty of golfers who later wake up and see that the golfing body clock is gone. You can't wind the clock back."

For the better part of 15 years, Nick Faldo was one of the best players on the planet, and certainly one of the most feared. As a championship player, on his way to three Masters and three British Open titles, 43 titles worldwide and a World Golf Hall of Fame plaque, Faldo was both fascinating and frustrating, a study in determination while studiously shying away from the cacophony that surrounds an athlete of world renown. He was obviously bright and overtly ornery. He was on his way to a goal and his eyes, his mind were focused on that goal and the public be damned. At least, that's what it seemed. There were quiet moments when he let his guard down and allowed his wit to shine, but they were rare.

Then he reemerged on television six years ago and the world began to see what we hadn't seen before, at least had not seen until he hugged Greg Norman at Augusta. Now, his championship career jettisoned for the television tower, he was all warm and fuzzy in his public persona, bringing his insight and humor to you with dazzling frequency. Do we have the real Nick Faldo now, or at least that part that seemed so suppressed as he climbed the ladder to stardom? Do we have the Nick Faldo who has abandoned what he called his Iron Chest for a warm tummy?

Sitting in an empty function space off the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, Faldo is answering questions. He does so fully and freely, in his conversational bits-and-pieces speaking style where subjects and verbs aren't always attached, where complex sentences defy grammar and punctuation, but somehow he manages to make rather perfect sense.

As he answers these questions about his championship career, about his new television career, about the relationship between his careers and his life, there is always the feeling that he is thinking of something else, something else he needs to do, something else he wants to do, some other road he hasn't traveled that must be worth traveling. Mind you, he's not being inattentive to his questioner, not brushing him off, not avoiding issues, even if he does not fully address them. He's relaxed, glib, humorous, reasonably quick to laugh. It's just, well, there is a lot going on.

He has a television schedule, as lead commentator for CBS and the Golf Channel, that's immensely demanding. He has a blossoming golf course design business. He has high profile corporate deals. He has his beloved Faldo Series that helps develop junior players in several corners of the world, from England to Dubai to the Pacific Rim to Rio. And he has four children, three from his second marriage and one with his third wife that require him to build in intense family time. Then there's the knighthood, the Sir Nick thing that Queen Elizabeth bestowed on him last November, the first British golfer since Harry Cotton to be given a knighthood.

Back in his playing days, few golfers could match his dedication. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, even the dogged Tom Kite. The resolve, the drive to succeed was part of Faldo's DNA. From the moment he started to hit balls in Welwyn Garden City, England, he was totally hooked and totally committed. And that commitment formed an enormous part of his public persona. All the foofaraw that was going on around him had to be ignored. He didn't have time for people, at least not those who didn't contribute to his goal. He had to be a champion, and that was it.

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