Golf: Changing face of the Faldo phenomenon: The Open champion, for whom experience was everything, reveals a lighter side as he concentrates on unfinished business. Tim Glover reports

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The Independent Online
DEFEAT was unthinkable for Nick Faldo so he simply did not think about it. Victory seemed inevitable for John Cook and he made the fatal mistake of thinking about it. Faldo's four-stroke lead had evaporated and the American found himself leading the 121st Open Championship by two strokes with two holes to play.

'I never said to myself, 'I've lost it, it's gone'. It wasn't a case of, 'Oh my God, I'm two shots behind',' Faldo said. 'I wasn't even thinking of what he was doing. It all happened so quickly.'

The crucial difference is that Faldo had been through this form of mental torture before. Cook had not. 'This is where it all started for me,' Faldo said, referring to his first major triumph, at Muirfield, in 1987. On that occasion he had to wait for another American, Paul Azinger, who led the field until he made a mess of the 17th and 18th holes. On Sunday Cook spent the 'worst 20 minutes of my life' watching Faldo on television in the office of Michael Bonallack, secretary of the Royal and Ancient.

Cook had three-putted the 17th, missing the second from two feet, and dropped a stroke at the 18th where he missed a putt from eight feet. In the final analysis experience was everything. On the last hole the wind conned him into hitting a two-iron approach from 200 yards. 'That is usually a pretty comfortable three-iron shot for me and as soon as I hit the ball I knew it was too much club. Absolutely, I gave away the championship.' At the 18th Faldo hit a three-iron and, as he had done in 1987, got the four on a hole where par is precious. For the next half an hour Faldo was a gibbering wreck.

Defeat was unthinkable for had he lost he might well have suffered the fate of Tony Jacklin who, as a player, was broken by a traumatic defeat at the hands of Lee Trevino on the same course 20 years ago. They should rename it the Old Claret Jugular. It was not the first time Faldo had been reduced to tears. He cried at the PGA Championship at Ganton when he was fined pounds 50 for slow play. He won the tournament.

'To be that good you have to be the most nasty, arrogant, self-centred son of a bitch,' Tom Weiskopf said of Faldo. 'Palmer was that way but he had a better way of concealing it.' Bonallack had a better way of putting it. Reflecting on the championship yesterday, Bonallack said of Faldo: 'He is the most complete professional golfer since Hogan and Nicklaus in his prime. He concentrates so hard and that is why he gives the impression of being aloof. He is single-minded and he has proved he can win on both sides of the Atlantic. I think the urge to win will stay with him a long time.'

Ten years, according to the man who now has three Opens, two Masters. 'I'd like the complete set,' Faldo said. 'There's no harm in trying to get the best out of yourself. When I retire I want to say I genuinely gave it 100 per cent. I wouldn't want to think I could have given it a bit more but that I had a good time. I've got it all worked out. I can have my good times at 45.' Then there will be course design, exhibitions and 'I'll go round the world chasing trout'.

At The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers Faldo said the mental strain 'was unbelievable, on the course and off it'. Last season he won the Irish Open and nothing else so he worked on another major re-evaluation. Seven years ago he went to David Leadbetter and asked him to redesign his swing. Mechanical Man emerged and so did the odd spanner. 'I wasn't happy with my game and I found it difficult to accept I wasn't playing as well as I had been. Now I've learnt to accept it. Physically and mentally I'm trying to get a lighter attitude so I'm not as hard on myself.' He read a book with the title Being Happy. On the evidence of his performance on the 18th green it can reduce you to tears. His wife, Gill, who took possession of the flagstick at the 18th (she now has five in her collection) was also crying, as was the caddie, Fanny Sunesson.

'I made the decision that I had to change, for myself and everybody around me,' Faldo said. He also took a leaf out of Fred Couples's book. Couples went on to win the Masters last April despite taking a double bogey at the 14th in the third round. 'He had a great attitude,' Faldo said. 'OK, forget it, it's gone.' That is what Faldo said to himself playing the 15th on Sunday. 'It's all done, gone. Forget the good and the bad and start again. It made me feel light again. That was the best thing.' Faldo birdied 15 and birdied 17 to get back to 12 under par for the championship.

In addition to Being Happy, Faldo has changed his approach to how he practises the game. 'Before it was all technique, now I work on the feel. I'd stand out there all day breaking my back and now I'll go out for half an hour and, bang, it's all done. No more experimenting, just a bit of fine tuning. For the Open I'd never hit the ball so well in practice. I'd never felt so good. It didn't matter what club I had in my hand.'

In 1987 his aggregate was 279. On Sunday it was 272. He landed in only three fairway bunkers all week and found the rough twice. Then there was Basil, his codename for Leadbetter's advice to 'brush' his putts.

Faldo, who dined with Gary Lineker on Sunday night - 'I taught him some Japanese' - played with a new ball made by the Japanese company Bridgestone. It had his name on it and the figure 11 to remind him of his double triumph at the 11th at Augusta where he defeated Scott Hoch in a play- off in 1989 and Ray Floyd in another play-off at the same hole the following year. In Nick Faldo Unlimited, the company is one of eight major sponsors. Pringle, who clothe him, is launching the Faldo range in America and Japan, and the workforce at Hawick is being increased. He won pounds 95,000 and the International Management Group, his agents, say the win, with endorsements and bonuses, will be worth around pounds 5m.

A fraction of it may be spent on issuing a bottle of Scotch at each of Scotland's 5,695 pubs so a toast can be drunk to the health and wealth of the Open champion. 'The crowd helped me a hell of a lot,' Faldo said. 'I wanted to show them the real me.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- VOLVO EUROPEAN TOUR ----------------------------------------------------------------- ORDER OF MERIT 1 N Faldo (GB). . . . . . . . .pounds 365,319 2 J-M Olazabal (Sp). . . . . . pounds 264,023 3 T Johnstone (Zim) . . . . . .pounds 262,407 4 A Forsbrand (Swe) . . . . . .pounds 254,818 5 C Montgomerie (GB). . . . . .pounds 203,668 6 P Senior (Aus). . . . . . . .pounds 186,599 7 J Rivero (Sp) . . . . . . . .pounds 179,695 8 I Woosnam (GB). . . . . . . .pounds 157,723 9 D Gilford (GB) . . . . . . .pounds 141,170 10 V Singh (Fiji) . . . . . . .pounds 138,732 ----------------------------------------------------------------- SONY WORLD RANKINGS ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 N Faldo (GB). . . . . . . . .19.15 pts 2 F Couples (US). . . . . . . .16.89 3 J-M Olazabal (Sp) . . . . . .15.25 4 I Woosnam (GB). . . . . . . .13.13 5 B Langer (Ger). . . . . . . .12.51 6 G Norman (Aus). . . . . . . .11.54 7 S Ballesteros (Sp). . . . . .11.47 8 D Love III (US) . . . . . . .10.62 9 P Azinger (US). . . . . . . .10.05 10 T Kite (US) . . . . . . . . .9.96 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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