It’s over. You will not see Sir Nick Faldo contest an Open Championship again. Friday, he said in a private address, could not be topped. A birdie at the 17th, only the second of his career at the Road Hole, and the moment on the Swilcan Bridge when he looked to the skies and felt the spirit of the game wash over him, was a quasi-religious experience he had not foreseen.
The recollection of it brought a lump to his throat and a reddening of the eyes, this great big lump of a man reduced to tears by a profound episode that seemed to capture in a few fleeting seconds a life-long engagement with golf. Assailed by a range of emotions he never expected to feel, Faldo sensed he was communing with the ghosts of great golfers past.
“That split second I looked at the sky. Honestly, I have never done that before. I looked up and saw the clouds. I have never seen anything like that. Someone was up there. Maybe Tom Morris or something. That was my spiritual moment. Amazing.”
England’s greatest golfer turned 58 on Saturday. He arrived at St Andrews with two goals: to make the cut and to get his old Pringle jumper out for the picture opportunity on the Swilcan Bridge with his son Matthew on the bag. One out of two ain’t bad.
Troon next year, where he first went to the Open with his dad in 1973, and Birkdale, where he played his first Open and where he will turn 60 in 2017, were both in his sights as places to say farewell. Not now.
“This was my 100th major. I didn’t know that till this week. I’m very grateful it came to an end here. I’m done now. The two next ones are big stories in my life, but this turned out better than I could have imagined. I can’t top that.”
Especially after impaling the middle finger of his right hand on the antlers of a stuffed stag hanging on the wall of his rental home. A bleeding digit and an opening 83 were enough to threaten his withdrawal on Friday morning but the promptings of his kids and a wee dram in the clubhouse before he went out straightened him out.
“I didn’t feel like going out and shooting another 83. I wasn’t feeling good but didn’t want the WD. I went to the range and was hitting it fat. But I had to go to the putting green and hit a few putts, then I did something I have never done before, secretly nipped into the clubhouse. Lesley Anne [his partner] ran in and purchased four very large Glenmorangies. I just looked at them and went wuff, downed a triple and went to the first tee. A bit late to discover the secret to the game of golf.”
It worked, obviously. “I started playing nicely then birdied 17, which was unbelievable. I was down there at the bottom of that hill. The rise was waist-high, I did not have a clue. I said, ‘Someone tell me, please.’ It comes off the putter and it went in the hole. I reckon the spirit of St Andrew, the golfing gods of St Andrews were looking after me. I was grateful for that.
“I then walked to the bridge. I didn’t care what happened then. I had just birdied 17. That relaxed me. I had already planned the sweater thing, be cool to stand on the bridge in my 1987 Pringle. I was unbelievably fortunate, the 17th, shoot 71, hit so many good shots like the good old days then walk up the last. Doesn’t get better than that.”
Faldo’s 71 was some piece of work, given how little he plays these days. He doesn’t even do social golf – rather, he heads to the corner of the range at his club in Florida and beats golf balls for hours with his driver. “I use it as aero. It’s a good workout. Besides, if I’m hitting drives well off the deck I know the old swing is in shape.”
He is, at 58, still the boy he was 40 years ago teeing up at Welwyn alongside Jack and Arnie, Lee and Gary. Yes, they were there too, the greats of the game, lining up one after another, in the imagination of a kid about to take on the world. “I mimicked their swings. I lived on the practice range for two years, 90 per cent of the time on my own.
“I went out and played imaginary opponents; Jack [Nicklaus] fades it, Arnold [Palmer] hooks it, Lee [Trevino] fades it, Gary [Player] hooks it, etc. I’d put three balls down and play against them. I wouldn’t be sitting here now if I hadn’t done that, visualising all the shots.”
And with that I left him, reminiscing where dreams are made, by the 17th hole at St Andrews.Reuse content