Golf: Relentless Faldo becoming cleverer by half: Tim Glover reports on the latest discovery in the world No 1's search for golfing perfection

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A MEASURE of the dominance of Nick Faldo is that he used the GA European Open at Sunningdale as a testing ground for his latest experiment. The perfectionist has been working with David Leadbetter on what amounts to a revolutionary approach to attacking golf. Instead of working out the yardage and selecting the appropriate club, Faldo plays a shot with a longer iron but with less force.

It is not true, however, that he does nothing by halves. He said that 75 per cent of the strokes played at Sunningdale were 'half- shots'. He deliberately avoided backspin and kept the ball on a lower trajectory to avoid any intereference from the branches of trees. 'Everything clicked and the course was perfect for what I was trying to do,' Faldo said. For example, instead of hitting a nine iron, he'd hit a softer eight. 'Before, if the yardage was not quite right, I'd be stuck between clubs,' he said. 'Now, I'll take one club more and hit it five to 10 yards less than I normally would. It gives me a bigger repertoire of shots.'

It also gives him a greater degree of control, emphasised by his rounds of 67, 66, 64 and 65, 18 under par for the championship and three strokes clear of the field.

Following his triumph in the Open Championship at Muirfield and his victory in the Scandinavian Masters in Malmo, the European Open was Faldo's third successive win on the tour. In his last seven tournaments, his record, including being runner-up in the US PGA championship, is 1, 3, 3, 1, 1, 2, 1. In Europe alone he has won nearly pounds 3m and at the age of 35 he remains hungry and ambitious. 'There is so much to learn,' he said. 'There are fresh goals to strive for and that is important. If you don't work at this game, it will kick you in the teeth really quickly. What I have achieved is all down to good old hard work. I have learned a lot about myself physically and mentally. I know more about how to get myself fit, how to keep my swing sweet. There is no harm in education.'

Barring a Faldo-like run from somebody else, the three times Open champion will finish at the top of the Order of Merit (Sunday's pounds 100,000 puts him on pounds 565,000) for only the second time in his career. These are perks that go with his quest to be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

'I used to think about being the world No 1, but I don't now. You learn from that and you learn how to cope with the responsibility. It's a nice feeling to keep churning it out. I'm enjoying my golf.'

It was suggested to Faldo, who generally views the press with contempt, that he did not always communicate this sense of enjoyment, on or off the course. 'You know I'm a miserable bugger,' he said. 'You keep on reminding me. I'm trying to find a way to loosen up, to show I'm more human.' He should not take it too far. Faldo did not get where he is today by helping old ladies to cross the street.

This week, Faldo goes to Paris for the Lancome Trophy and once again he will start as favourite. He has won three tournaments in a row before. In 1983 - pre-Leadbetter - he won the French Open, the Martini International and the Car Care Championship.

Sweden has been making a concerted push in Europe with Robert Karlsson, Anders Forsbrand, Mats Lanner and Per-Ulrik Johansson all featuring prominently. Faldo was particularly impressed by the 23-year-old Karlsson. 'He's a hell of a player,' Faldo said. 'He's got a good future. He certainly wasn't too worried about me.'

Karlsson has made a positive start in the race to be the first Swede in the European Ryder Cup team. 'I'm very happy with the result,' Karlsson said. 'It is the second time I have finished runner- up, but this was better. I was against the No 1 in the world and it has made me more confident.' The 12 who take on the United States at The Belfry in September 1993, will be finalised next summer.

It is estimated that prize money in the region of pounds 250,000 will guarantee a place. Jamie Spence has already accumulated pounds 105,139 by winning the European Masters in Switzerland and having a top- 10 finish at Sunningdale. Spence, from Kent, would have won even more but for a grotesque quadruple bogey eight on Sunday. A drive hit a spectator's ladder and careered into the trees. Although he found the ball, it was unplayable and he had to return to the tee from where he played three and then mis-hit his fourth into heather. Snakes and ladders. Had Spence, who recovered to shoot 71, not dropped all those strokes at one hole, he would have finished fourth instead of joint ninth.