Golf: Just what is the matter with Nick Faldo?

Andy Farrell assesses the barriers to Nick Faldo's drive to reclaim past glories
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The Independent Online
ST AUGUSTINE is claimed to be the oldest settlement in America, which must make it one of the few places in the country to be on a par, age wise, with the Old Course at St Andrews. Last weekend saw the opening of the new World Golf Village near the town. "St Andrews will always be the home of golf," said Michael Bonallack, secretary of the Royal and Ancient, "but these days everyone has a second home, especially here in Florida."

The centrepiece of the Village, a $350m (pounds 216m) development which will include six golf courses, shops and a hotel, is the World Golf Hall of Fame. Yesterday, in the highlight of the opening festivities, saw the induction of Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo, along with 71 members of the old Hall of Fame in Pinehurst and the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Faldo's six major championships - three Opens and three US Masters - put him 11th in the all-time list, one behind this country's other great player from another age, Harry Vardon. Faldo was elected to the Hall of Fame last year in an international ballot along with Seve Ballesteros, whose induction has been postponed until next March.

At the top of the spire of the Hall of Fame building, which includes exhibitions on the history of the game complete with a replica of the bridge over the Swilcan Burn, is the "Sanctuary". From a spiral chandelier dangle 162 18-inch long prisms, 73 of which now contain the images of the inducted members.

A time for reflection, then. Whether Faldo's mastery is all in the past or will return in the future is open for debate. What is not in doubt is that it is not in the present.

Faldo has only recorded one top 10 finish this season and has plunged out of the top 20 in the world rankings. His thesis that his form was close to his 1990 zenith was blown apart when he missed a putt from 18 inches on the last hole at Augusta to miss the cut in the Masters for the second year running, and the third time in five majors.

The following week, at the MCI Classic, he warned anyone fancying the role of obituarist not to "waste your ink". He added the prediction that the US Open, to be played next month at the Olympic club in San Francisco, would be won by a 40-year-old. But in the final round, Faldo shot an 83 and trailed in 34 strokes behind the winner, Davis Love.

In his only appearance since, in the inaugural Macau Open, Faldo putted for the last six holes of the event with a nine-iron. "All slumps are the same - a slump is a slump, you just keep working on it," Faldo said. "I'm not looking for something new. I'm just looking for something to remind me of what I was doing in the past."

He also suggested it was nice to be in Asia and away from the British Press who have chronicled his career for 20 years. This week he is absent from the Volvo PGA Championship, one of his favourite events. He has won the title a record four times and has often said since his last victory in 1989 how much he would like to win a fifth time. Instead, he competes at the Colonial tournament on the US Tour which has been his true home for the last four years.

Faldo will keep working with his coach, David Leadbetter, but inevitably rumours about his decline have started circulating. One suggests that Leadbetter has told Faldo to play practice rounds from forward tees to help rediscover the art of low scoring.

Fundamentally, putting is at the root of Faldo's slump. He always used to hole those par putts. Now he doesn't. "Everyone misses more than they used to," said Colin Montgomerie last week. Nick Price, a fellow Leadbetter student, adds: "I think his putting has just gone awry. He putted so well for such a long time and now he isn't and it has seeped through his game. I have been through the same thing myself and you can feel your whole game crumbling."

A less effective short game has put pressure on Faldo's long game, which is already struggling to keep up with the younger generation of big hitters.

Faldo's strategic game plan, based around par being a good score, is rapidly becoming obsolete as tournaments, at least outside the majors, resemble birdiefests.

"These young guys are now overpowering courses," said Price, who has alerted the R&A of his concerns about modern equipment. "The big-headed drivers have changed the game for players like Nick and myself. I'd have them outlawed. I'm not saying the young guys are not any good, but some of those who were mediocre off the tee have become effective drivers."

Faldo has managed to regain some distance by turning to the Tight Lie fairway wood, and he liked the implement so much he has ditched Mizuno and signed a lifetime sponsorship with Adams Golf and will help to design a driver and set of irons. "We're both gambling a little bit," said Barney Adams, "but we are soulmates. We are both perfectionists."

The Internet has proved no sanctuary for Faldo. A visitor to a message board on the CNN/Sports Illustrated web site suggested Faldo retired immediately. The overwhelming response was that he should not. "Who would I root against?" said one reply.

Another voiced an opinion which will find many in agreement: "There is nothing wrong with Nick Faldo that a little more relaxation and a little less personal intensity and analysis cannot cure. Relax, improvise and enjoy the game and the form will always come back."