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|Nick Faldo will be a player and a TV analyst at British Open. (Chris Baldwin/GolfPublisher.com)|
PGA Tour legend Nick Faldo is playing in another British Open at Scotland's Carnoustie this week, but these days he's better known as a golf analyst for CBS and the Golf Channel. As he turns 50 on Wednesday, the 2008 European Ryder Cup captain looks at, among other things, why it's been eight long years since a European has won a major golf championship.
HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - When a fan asks PGA Tour legend Nick Faldo who he thinks is going to win the British Open this year, the man who's own website calls him "Europe's greatest ever golfer" does not hesitate with his answer.
"A golfer," Faldo shoots back with his trademark sharp wit.
It's not that Faldo is being a jerk to his fans (in this case, he signs an autograph for the questioner), though some surely still take it that way. Faldo just cannot help himself. He's not going to say something just to make someone feel better.
Faldo has gotten better at dealing with the media. In his new role as a CBS and Golf Channel analyst, Faldo is not so quick to be utterly disdainful of the Fourth Estate. At least not outwardly. In fact, if you happened to run into Faldo at the LPGA Championship in this sleepy Maryland town last month like I did - a place in which Faldo seemed a bit shocked to find himself - you would have thought him to be downright accommodating.
Europe is where Faldo always found his greatest success and scrutiny, and he is teeing it up once again this week, when the British Open gets underway Thursday at Carnoustie - the day after Faldo's 50th birthday. He will both play in the championship (which he has won three times) and analyze the tournament in the broadcast booth.
Faldo is quick to poo-poo this double-duty in typical fashion.
"I'm sure the ordinary fellow who has the wife, the ex-wife, the two kids and the job is going to be tossing at night over whether I'm able to play golf and talk about golf the same day," Faldo says. "Though playing on the weekend might get me out of a few production meetings."
Faldo smiles. With his eyes. Getting him to actually upturn his lips doesn't come so easily - or naturally.
His little joke aside, Faldo appears to be taking his television gig seriously. At the LPGA Championship, you could find him standing on the driving range, watching players warm up and adding his own personal research to the press notes. Other media members - writers and broadcasters - doing the same were rare.
You can bet Faldo will have his stories ready for Carnoustie.
But Faldo will resist being the story, as he did when both the Golf Channel and the LPGA Tour told media that he had "chosen" to cover the LPGA Championship rather than a regular PGA Tour event that same weekend.
Ask Faldo about that one and he shoots down the tale as effectively as he fired at the pin in his prime.
"The Golf Channel asked me to go (to the LPGA Championship)," Faldo says. "They're my boss. I go where they tell me to go. It's certainly not a statement for the girls or against anyone else on my part.
"Hopefully it's good for the Golf Channel."
Faldo gives another of his almost weary shrugs. He readily admits that the first time he ever watched a professional women's golf tournament in person happened in the 49th year of his life at the LPGA Championship.
Nick Faldo being portrayed as a crusader for women's rights is definitely not typecasting. Faldo carries something of a well-earned reputation as a cad. He divorced his first wife when she found he was having an affair with his manager's secretary. He divorced his second wife after 11 years when he started seeing a 20-year-old University of Arizona golfer Brenna Cepelak.
When Faldo broke it off with Cepelak, she famously took a nine-iron to his prized Porsche, to the delight of the British tabloids. The car didn't survive the end of the relationship without serious damage either.
Now Faldo is on wife No. 3. Not that all women seem to hold it against him.
"He obviously knows golf," says 19-year-old LPGA star Morgan Pressel. "I think he's funny on TV."
That's probably the most surprising thing of all. The obsessively competitive golfer who tried to intimidate everyone else in his day, the guy who rarely spoke to other pros he played with, lets it loose in the TV booth. College kids think he's cool. At least the ones who actually watch golf.
Faldo cannot be just the funny guy with the British accent on American television this week though. He is the three-time British Open winner (and six-time major championship winner) who will be answering plenty of questions about why it's been eight long years since a European golfer has won a major golf championship.
He was one of the most clutch golfers of all time, he's the captain of the 2008 European Ryder Cup team, and everyone wants his take.
"I don't know that there is one simple answer to it," Faldo tells me. "It's certainly reached the point where it's embarrassing to some of the top players. We have very competitive players in Europe. You can see that in the Ryder Cup results.
"It's not due to any lack of desire to win."
When asked if Europe's top golfers today lack the cold-blooded killer instinct he showed in his day, Faldo pauses.
"I certainly found it difficult to be friends with the guys I was trying to beat on the course," Faldo says. "I needed that edge. I'm not sure that everyone has to take the approach I did - it can be isolating - but I think there is some of that in Tiger Woods.
In other words, Faldo does not want to rip the guys he is going to ask to win matches for him in the next Ryder Cup. The truth is European golf needs a few more jerks like the Old Nick Faldo to regain even a pinky finger grip on the Claret Jug. There are more than enough golfers like Sergio Garcia who broke down crying in his mother's arms after posting an 89 in the final round at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open.
That fan who got the smart aleck answer from Faldo on his Open pick should be grateful. He received a first-hand flashback on why a European ruled golf during the early 90s, a window into just how much the continent lacks in golf hubris - and winning guts - today.
July 16, 2007
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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