James Lawton: As Sir Nick knows, truly great competitors have no need for popularity contests

Faldo lost the Ryder Cup but won by 10 up the George W Bush diplomatic medal

In between winning his first and second US Masters' titles the future Sir Nick Faldo did not need telling that his ascent into the upper strata of world-class sport was not a matter of universal celebration back home.

On the clubhouse terrace in Houston, Texas, in 1990, shortly before he joined Jack Nicklaus as the only golfer ever to win-back-to-back green jackets, he offered one possible explanation. "The British people understand that it is hard to get to the top of any sport," he said, "but what I don't think they quite grasp is how hard it is to stay there.

"You have to make a lot of sacrifices, you have to get into a tunnel, and this doesn't make you a particularly sociable individual. But then if the choice is between being a very popular fellow who is happy for the rewards of one or two big successes or someone who is prepared to go his own way and hit millions of golf balls, I know what mine is."

What Faldo wasn't feeding into the computer, of course, was the fact that certain aspects of his nature might have brought mayhem to the Last Supper. The most common perception back then was that he was obsessed with himself, but this wasn't entirely true. His obsession was with what he did, and the accompanying need to do it as well as anyone possibly could. That in the process he was capable of displaying the sensitivity of an embattled rhino only contributed to the degree of his public relations failure.

For anyone who knew Faldo the boy, none of this could have come as a great surprise. As a 16-year-old prodigy he told a visitor to his home in Welwyn Garden City, "My greatest ambition in life is to turn myself into a golf machine. I don't care how many balls I have to hit, I want my swing to be perfect, I want everything to be perfect."

Many teenagers have had more disturbing ambitions, but they tend to be tempered and smoothed by time. Faldo's haven't been, as we saw so gruesomely in Kentucky last September when as Europe's Ryder Cup captain he lost the match but won, by 10 up with eight to play, the George W Bush diplomatic medal.

He alienated the Irish contingent before a ball was struck in anger with a light reference to the potato famine. When Muhammad Ali arrived on the course he was struck dumb with emotion. His worst critics said it was almost as though someone had told him that was the way to react. A more generous interpretation was that he was merely awe-struck by the presence of someone who had trod so often on the holy ground of his own existence – the terrain of sport's ultimate winners. However, despite all these reservations about the nature of Faldo the point to be made now, surely, is that his knighthood is thoroughly deserved and indeed, if we still have the ability to separate mere celebrity from the reality of truly great sports achievement, a matter for considerable rejoicing.

Faldo may not have entranced the sporting nation but in the winning of six majors he surely deepened its pride. This, you might have thought, would have over-ridden all other reactions to the weekend announcement. But of course it didn't.

Inevitably, there was as much disparagement as celebration, a development which reminded you of arguably one of the least uplifting episodes in the history of team sport. It came when Faldo, the eternal outsider, wrote a letter of encouragement to European Ryder Cup captain Mark James before the debacle in Boston in 1999. For sheer gracelessness, Faldo on his worst day might have struggled to match James's autobiography-enriching announcement that he had tossed the letter into the nearest rubbish bin.

It was not hard to detect a similar undercurrent of resentment in Kentucky, even if the problem was undoubtedly exaggerated by Faldo's generally hapless style. What emerged most strongly, though, was the old feeling that the European team, of which only Padraig Harrington had begun to walk in the steps of Faldo, had created the kind of clubby, comfort zone which had always been so inaccessible to Faldo.

No doubt that was largely the result of his own driven, socially clumsy ways, but maybe there was also a little corner of the team's psyche that still resented the ground that Faldo had put between himself and all his British rivals.

We may, who knows, have something of Faldo in the making of the great Wimbledon hope Andrew Murray. The Scotsman has huge talent but his single most obvious asset is his Faldo-like commitment to competing at the highest level. Certainly he doesn't play the popularity game with any great finesse; indeed one national newspaper greeted his historic triumph at Queen's with the request he might smile a little more.

As it happens, among the quirks of his character Faldo has a rather winning smile, but then it is also true that in the past it has mainly been reserved for moments of supreme personal triumph. He managed one at the weekend, naturally, and if some were less than beguiled as they reached into the ragbag of sneers that often accompany the progress of the true loners, he could hardly have cared less.

When the Queen says, Arise Sir Nick, she will only be telling him what he told himself so many years ago. To quibble with Faldo's knighthood is to confirm the worst aspect of the honours system. It is to say that it is nothing more than a reward for those who say the right things at all the right places. Faldo represents none of that. He is gauche, surly and his vision of the world rarely stretches beyond his own narrowly cut fairway. However, his achievements make an entirely different kind of statement.

They say that if you want something hard enough, and are prepared to work for it, anything is possible. If that isn't worth a place in the honours system, it is extremely hard to know what is.

Foster fits old-school keeper role like a glove

Even someone resolutely unimpressed by Twenty20 as an aid to the finest cricket skills has to concede that a nugget of pure gold was sieved by England's wicketkeeper James Foster in Sunday's defeat of the reigning champions India.

Foster's lightning stumping of India's big-hitting danger man Yuvraj Singh was widely seen as both a piece of brilliant skill and timing and quite possibly the key moment of a closely fought match.

It will also serve as a superb exhibit in the argument of all those who believe that the role of the gloveman has been ridiculously reduced in the real business of Test cricket.

Now it is apparently acceptable to have some rough adequacy behind the stumps if it is accompanied by the ability to knock off a few runs.

So far Foster's Test claims have been blunted by his lack of striking success at the batting crease. However, at Lord's he made the case that a crack wicketkeeper brings his own value to the action. What is the point of having bowlers skilful enough to draw a batsman from his ground if the man gathering the ball lacks the razor-sharp reflexes displayed by Foster? The game as it should be played is surely diminished.

Yuvraj had smitten two mighty sixes before Foster swooped so exquisitely. It was a mighty blow for England – and a celebration of one of the game's finest skills. It was finesse amid the mayhem and its worth should be recognised in the more serious business of the Ashes.

Caught napping on the inside track

For the man who knows everybody and everything in racing, the one you might call for the latest betting totals from the Hong Kong Racing Club or what happened of significance on any gallop you care to mention, Friday night carried a rare element of surprise.

Mike Dillon, whose official title of public relations chief of Ladbrokes scarcely covers the range of his duties as confidant of the entire game, was awarded the Reg Griffin Racing Personality of the Year award. Dillon hadn't heard a whisper.

Among the admirers calling to congratulate him were the fabled Irishmen J P McManus and John Magnier. Both were hugely amused that Dillon had missed out this particular piece of racing intelligence.

As Magnier related, McManus reminded him: "This is the guy who knows the names of your unnamed two-year-olds."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?