Golf: Faldo's speech in own defence: Tim Glover visits Royal St George's golf course, Sandwich, which hosts the Open Championship in July

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The Independent Online
WHEN Nick Faldo read somewhere that the Royal and Ancient was considering a move to curtail the victory speech of the Open champion he was almost lost for words. Faldo telephoned Michael Bonallack, the secretary of the R & A, and urged him to do no such thing. Bonallack reassured him that it was a rumour without foundation. 'We haven't even discussed it,' Bonallack said. 'Thank God for that,' Faldo replied.

The conversation was held in the light of Faldo's extraordinary speech on the 18th green following his nail-biting victory in the Open Championship at Muirfield last summer. Overcome with emotion, he thanked the press from the 'heart of my bottom' and delivered a forgettable version of 'My Way'. Many observers felt that he was not gracious enough to the players he narrowly defeated.

'Nick didn't get it right,' Bonallack admitted, 'but it's a fairly vulnerable time for the winner. The spectators expect the champion to say a few words. They want something for their money. In any case it was never a great issue with us.' Faldo's view was that he was almost in a state of shock and that he spoke after experiencing a 'huge rush of adrenalin'.

Faldo will defend his title at Royal St George's, Sandwich, from 15 to 18 July, a venue which has given him his unhappiest experience in an Open Championship. When it was last held at Royal St George's in 1985, Faldo had returned home before Sandy Lyle completed his victory. 'I had a terrible time,' Faldo recalled. 'I couldn't do anything right. It was the beginning of my swing change and the start of my dark days.'

He will find the course almost as he left it eight years ago. 'We haven't made any significant changes,' Neil Roach, the chairman of the championship committee, said. Eighty bunkers have been rebuilt at a cost of pounds 80,000 to the club and some tees have been enlarged. Around pounds 50,000 is also being spent on the clubhouse. 'We hope that the greens will be a bit faster than in 1985,' Roach said. To that end they will be cut more frequently and will be watered by hand as opposed to the automatic system. By July they hope the greens will have a reading of nine on the stimpmeter which, compared with the putting surfaces at Augusta National, the venue for the Masters next month, is not particularly fast. 'We don't want them any faster,' Bonallack said. 'If the wind blows and the greens were exceptionally quick the course could become unplayable.'

For the first time, the R & A, which says that Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino are unlikely to compete, are holding a qualifying tournament in Japan. The first five players will gain direct entry and the next 10 will be exempt from regional qualifying in England although they will have to play in the final qualifying tournament.

In addition, the top three in the Japanese Order of Merit will be awarded places in the championship. If the scheme is successful the R & A will consider introducing a qualifying tournament in the United States and that in turn could lead to a qualifying tournament being held in Britain for the US Open. If that came to fruition more European players could expect to play in America.

The Fourth Estate were invited to play Royal St George's yesterday and we came a poor second. We will not, however, tolerate any complaints from the stars come July. We played it in a gale force wind (the club's anemometer ceased to function) and sub-zero temperatures. Faldo and company can thank their lucky stars they were not out there. 'The first nine holes - tremendous fun, not very good golf,' Walter Hagen said of Royal St George's in 1928. 'Second nine holes - tremendous golf, no fun at all.' As far as the press were concerned, it was not very good golf and no fun at all.

(Photograph omitted)

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