Faldo falls on his putter

Richard Edmondson follows the final round of the local hero who let a winning chance slip through his hands

Richard Edmondson
Sunday 21 July 1996 23:02

With Tom Lehman and Mark McCumber on the winner's rostrum, Royal Lytham looked rather like a convention for the bald yesterday. It would have been no surprise to see Nick Faldo joining them with his hair pulled out.

Faldo went into the final round with his bugle blowing and references to beating the clear leader, Lehman, in the mental chess of the last day of a major. The American indeed tried several times to fall on his sword, but Faldo kept pulling it away. The most damaging implement of the day would transpire to be the Briton's putter.

"I had so many chances today and I was unable to take them," he said. "It was as simple as that. I played pretty good from tee to green, but I did not take advantage of anything."

While Lehman has a deep faith in God, Faldo has similar trust in himself. There is a tangible corona of self-belief around the man, and it was a force which destroyed Greg Norman in the Masters in April.

As he went through his stretching exercises on the first tee and applied cream to his hands, Faldo's demeanour suggested the contest in the mind would be at least as influential as the one with golf clubs.

Lehman understands the influence of body language, having overcome the grand wizard of the art, Seve Ballesteros, in a Ryder Cup match. When informed that he would be paired with Faldo, the American replied: "Well, that'll be fun." The prospect of playing with Faldo has seldom provoked that particular response.

Lehman's answer to the unspoken intimidation, he insisted, would be to keep his head up. He also managed to do some extraordinary things with his cranium, jerking his skull forward like a duck at a walk and rolling it around in the manner of Mike Tyson before he delivers Frank Bruno to the canvas.

Faldo talked a lot to his ball, and seemed to enjoy that intercourse far more than he does with the majority of human beings. He certainly did not waste any words on Lehman and, by the end, he would not be on speaking terms with his putter.

"Be right," our man mouthed as his ball was in flight from the first tee. It was, but was unique in that respect. Faldo missed that first putt from six feet, and never managed to disturb Lehman psychologically, even though the American looked ready to climb on to the quack's couch on several occasions.

On the third, Faldo was disturbed by a buggy that came over a crest sounding like a colony of mice. He may have been persistently annoyed by the compulsory fool following him around, shouting "you're the man" and establishing who the halfwit was. On the same hole, Lehman located fairway sand and had to contort himself with one leg in the hazard and the other knee on a bank. It was the sort of shape a dog makes when introduced to a lamppost.

The Briton was applauded so generously throughout, it appeared to be a clapping contest in the crowd. Just over these swollen galleries there were clouds of dust, the sort of haze that follows wildebeest across the savannah.

For the occasional golfer in the throng there may have been a secretive pleasure in watching Lehman. The man from Minnesota is 37, has returned to the haircut he was born with and shows evidence of hearty breakfasts and TV suppers around his waistline. He sends out the signal that there is hope for us all.

If Tom's was the before physique, then Faldo possessed the after. The tournament's profile book told us he is two years older than Lehman, which immediately prompted recourse to the tome's erratum section.

Faldo missed short putts from the fifth to the seventh (twice from six feet and once from two) as Lehman struggled and it appeared, for a moment, as if this couple's encounter might not even produce the champion. That, at one stage, looked to be heading for another Couples. "I had a bad run at five, six and seven," Faldo said. "That made it tough to get my confidence up."

It took until the 13th for Lehman even to get the honour, but the way he did so, a 15-foot putt for a birdie, stabilised his confidence and deterred challengers, and was considered the turning point of the round. However, Faldo would argue that the hinge came much earlier. "Yesterday [when Lehman shot a 64] was the key to this Open," he said.

Lehman admitted to being intimidated by his playing partner, although it was more by Faldo's power golf than any mental trickery. "He sure was a gentleman out there and it was a pleasure to play with him," he said. "It's pretty easy to see why he has won so many championships when you watch him playing golf."

Such observations may come more easily in victory, but there is a real sense that Lehman is a good guy made good for the first time in a major. He takes home with him a claret jug, Faldo a brain drained.

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