British golfer Nick Faldo has won six major golf events and more than 30 titles on the European Professional Golf Association tour, primarily from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Though Faldo is a great golfer, he has not been a popular nor particularly high profile figure in the United States, in part because of his personality. Faldo only achieved success when he changed his golf swing in the mid-1980s, and was known for his straight driver.
Faldo was born July 18, 1957, in Welwyn Garden City, England, the only child of George Arthur and Joyce (née Smalley) Faldo. His father worked as an accountant at a chemical company. Faldo's mother encouraged her son's interests in all sports. As a young child, he was an enthusiastic swimmer and cyclist. When Faldo was 10 years old, he won the Hertfordshire county medal in the 100-meter breaststroke. He also played soccer, rugby, basketball, cricket, and tennis, and ran track and threw the discus, while receiving his education at Sir Frederic Osborne School.
When Faldo was only 13 years old, he was watching the Masters tournament on television one year when Jack Nicklaus won and decided he would like to try golf. His mother arranged for Faldo to have six golf lessons, and he was hooked. He played his first round of golf when he was 14 years old.
Faldo soon became a good golfer, despite his late start. The sport so captured his attention that it made him lose interest in school. Faldo recalled to Sarah Ballard of Sports Illustrated, "I love school, until golf came along. Then the only thing I was interested in was getting out of the gates as quick as possible and going to the golf course."
When he was 16 years old, Faldo convinced his parents to let him quit school to work on his golf game and become a professional. He played every day all day for
two years. The work paid off when in 1974 he was part of an All-England boys golf team. In 1975, Faldo won two amateur championships, the British Youths Open and the English Championship.
Faldo's golf prowess was soon noticed in the United States, where he was given a golf scholarship to the University of Houston. He attended for ten weeks, but he felt the distraction of going to school hurt his golf game. After leaving the school, Faldo then turned professional in 1976 and joined the European Professional Golfers Association.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Faldo did decently as a professional. He won his first tournament in 1977, the Skol Lager, and was named rookie of the year for the European PGA Tour. That year also began his association with the Ryder Cup, a tournament that pitted Americans against Europeans and was played every two years. Faldo was a member of every team from 1977-97, amassing more points in the competition than anyone in history.
Faldo won a number of tournaments in the early 1980s, including the British PGA Championships in 1978, 1980, and 1981, the Haig Tournament Players Championship in 1982, and the French Open and the Martini Invitational in 1983. In 1983 and 1984, he won the Car Care Plan Invitational. While Faldo did well at these tournaments, he failed to win any of the majors (the U.S. Open, the British Open, PGA Championship, and Masters). In 1984, Faldo was leading in the final round of the Masters, but lost on the front nine in the final round. These kind of losses led the British press to dub him "Nicky Fold-0."
Changed His Game to Achieve Success
In the mid-1980s, Faldo decided to take drastic action to make himself a better player. He decided to change his swing, which many observers had considered a pretty, long swing. Faldo believed it was unreliable, and used too much wrist. With the help of coach David Leadbetter, Faldos's swing became more efficient, compact, and tight. To accomplish his goal, he hit 1,500 practice balls a day, a large number for a player who already practiced obsessively. This action also improved Faldo's putting game.
The hard work paid off when Faldo came into his own in the late 1980s and early 1990s, winning several majors and becoming the pride of Great Britain. Faldo led a high profile life on the European PGA Tour, but also had a number of run-ins with the press. In 1987, Faldo won his first major, the British Open. He won it at Muirfield in Scotland, shooting a 279 on the tournament and making 18 pars in the final round. He repeated in 1990, when he won by five strokes and shot a 270, and in 1992, with a total of 272. Faldo was also the runnerup in 1993.
Winning the majors in the United States proved harder. Though Faldo won the Volvo Masters in 1988 and was in contention to win the U.S. Open that year as well, he lost in a playoff to Curtis Strange. But in 1989, he won his second major tournament, the Masters, in a sudden death playoff against Scott Hoch. Faldo repeated as Masters champion in 1990 (again in a playoff, this time over Ray Floyd) and in 1996. Faldo won a number of other tournaments in 1989, including the Volvo PGA Championship and the Dunhill British Masters.
In 1990, Faldo was at the top of his game, winning the two majors, as well as the Johnnie Walker Classic. He also finished very high at the U.S. Open. All of his success proved that he could win with the lead as well as from far behind, in both Britain and the United States, and on any kind of surface condition. He also proved himself to be a trailblazer on the greens as well, when he hired a woman, Fanny Sunesson, to be his caddie.
|1957||Born July 18 in Welwyn Garden City, England|
|1971||Took first golf lessons|
|1976||Attended the University of Houston for ten weeks; turned professional and joined the European Professional Golfers Association|
|1978||Member of Hennessy Cup team|
|1979||Member of Ryder Cup Team|
|1980||Member of Hennessy Cup team|
|1981||Member of Ryder Cup Team|
|1982||Member of Hennessy Cup team|
|1983||Member of Ryder Cup Team|
|1984||Member and captain of Hennessy Cup team; divorced first wife Melanie Rockall|
|1985||Member of Ryder Cup Team|
|1985-86||Member of England's Dunhill Cup team|
|1986||Marries second wife Gill Bennett in January; daughter Natalie Lauren born on September 18|
|1988||Member of England's Dunhill Cup team|
|1989||Son Matthew Alexander born on March 17|
|1990||Hired Fanny Sunesson as his full-time caddy|
|1991||Member of England's Dunhill Cup team|
|1991||Member of Ryder Cup Team|
|1993||Member of England's Dunhill Cup team|
|1993||Daughter Georgia Kate born on March 20|
|1993||Member of Ryder Cup Team|
|1996||Divorced from second wife|
|1999||Split with Sunesson as caddie|
|2001||Rehired Sunesson as caddie; signs a ten-year deal with Bally Golf; marries third wife, Valerie|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1975||Wins the British Youths Open and the English Championship|
|1977||Wins the Skol Lager; named Rookie of the Year on the European PGA Tour|
|1978,||Wins the British PGA Championship|
|1983||Finishes on top of the Order of Merit|
|1987||Wins the British Open|
|1998||Awarded MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen of England|
|1989||Wins the Masters; named BBC Sports Personality of the Year|
|1990||Wins the British Open and the Masters; wins PGA's Player of the Year Award|
|1992||Wins the British Open; finished on the top of Order of Merit|
|1996||Wins the Masters|
Faldo did not rest on his laurels. Because of the rigors of the golf tour and the possibilities of injury, he began to exercise intensely to increase the muscle mass on his 63'3" body. Though Faldo was playing well, he was never really embraced by Americans—not fans, journalists, nor other players. Despite a problematic image, Faldo supported youth golf initiatives in his country. He built Nick Faldo Golf Centers where children could learn golf for little or no cost, and later funded the Faldo Junior Series to nurture young British golf talent.
Faldo faltered in 1991, winning only the Irish Open that year. He tied for 12th at the Masters, and tied for 16th at U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. The frustrating year led Faldo to again change. He dropped the physical training, and stopped practicing so much. Faldo also modified his style of play, making his full swing different, reading greens less analytically, and becoming more creative in his shots. He told Jaime Diaz of the New York Times, "I had to learn to cope with my game being off. At first it was tremendously frustrating. The breakthrough came when I finally realized that you can't hit the ball as well as you'd like all the time. There is a human element."
The changes worked in the short term. Faldo had what many considered the best year of his career in 1992, winning the British Open, the Scandinavian Masters, Euro Open, and Johnnie Walker World Championship. That year, he became the first player to win more than £1,000,000 in a season, and finished atop the Order of Merit.
Career in Decline
After 1992, however, Faldo's career was in decline. He won two tournaments and was the runner-up at the British Open in 1993, then only won the Alfred Dunhill Open in 1994. In 1995, he decided to leave the European PGA Tour behind, and join the PGA Tour in the States full time. Though Faldo wanted new challenges, the only bright spot of the mid-to late 1990s was a victory at the Masters in 1996. Even this major win was somewhat tainted. Faldo won in part because leader Greg Norman played himself out of contention.
Faldo's last PGA win came at the Nissan Open in 1997, the same year he won the WA Open. In 1998, he won the World Cup of Golf, partnered with David Carter. This was the first time England had won. Faldo returned to the European Tour in 1999, with a more restricted swing and an inability to putt or chip well. Though Faldo continued to play on the European Tour and in majors, he began preparing for his life after golf in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He became a commentator with columns in newspapers and magazines and an analyst for television, including The Golf Channel. He also founded a company, Faldo Golf, which was planned to build a course in Moscow, Russia.
Summarizing Faldo's approach to golf, Rick Reilly wrote in Sports Illustrated, "That's golf to Faldo—a bicycle to be taken apart, a game to be broken down past wins, past majors, past greatness, past everything, down to the very cogs. Perfect to the tiniest screw, that's Faldo."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY FALDO:
(With Mitchell Platts) The Rough with the Smooth: Breaking Into Professional Golf, S. Paul, 1980.
(With Vivien Sanders) Golf: The Winning Formula, Lyons & Burford, 1989.
(With Bruce Critchley) Faldo: In Search of Perfection, Weindenfeld & Nicholson, 1994.
Related Biography: Caddie Fanny Sunesson
When Nick Faldo hired Fanny Sunesson to be his caddie in 1990, it marked one of the few times a woman was a full-time caddie on the men's PGA Tour. Sunesson was a native of the small town of Karlshamn, Sweden. Her parents were golf enthusiasts, and Sunesson herself began playing when she was 15 years old. She became focused on her golf game and was soon a decent amateur player. To get more experience and see the professional game up close, she decided to try being a caddie for professionals in 1986. Sunesson's first job came at a tournament in Stockholm that year when she convinced European tour player Jaime Gonzalez to hire her. She then worked for English player Howard Clark in the late 1980s, before Faldo asked her to be his caddy in 1990. She had the mental focus and attention to detail to caddie for someone as demanding as Faldo. Sunesson was also encouraging and helped him relax during play. The duo split in 1999, and she worked with other top golfers including Notah Begay and Sergio Garcia, before being rehired by Faldo in 2001.
(With Richard Simmons) A Swing for Life, Viking, 1995.
Hickok, Ralph. A Who's Who of Sports Champions. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.
Anderson, Dave. "A Mystery: Just Where Is Nick Faldo?" New York Times, (June 14, 1998): section 8, p. 6.
Anderson, Dave. "Why Faldo Deserves the Title." New York Times, (July 24, 1990): B9.
Ballard, Sarah. "Britannia Rules Again." Sports Illustrated, (July 10, 1989): 60.
Blauvelt, Harry. "Faldo in Fine Fettle." USA Today, (July 12, 2002): 1C.
Callahan, Tom. "Golf." Think Golf. Golf Digest, (February 1999).
Diaz, Jaime. "Faldo Is Doing Things Naturally." New York Times, (July 21, 1992): B13.
Diaz, Jaime. "Faldo Uses Dedication To Reach Higher Levels." New York Times, (July 24, 1990): B11.
Diaz, Jaime. "Faldo's Revised Style Is Fitting Him to a Tee." New York Times, (June 12, 1992): B15.
Diaz, Jaime. "A Methodical Faldo Develops a Plan for Higher Achievement." New York Times, (March 15, 1991): A28.
Diaz, Jaime. "Quest for '91 Grand Slam Left Faldo Out in Cold." New York Times, (March 12, 1992): B16.
Diaz, Jaime. "Swingtime Hits Jamaica and Faldo Is the Impressio." New York Times, (December 17, 1992): B23.
Dorman, Larry. "Faldo Is Back on Tour, Aiming to Re-claim No. 1." New York Times, (January 19, 1995): B15.
Dorman, Larry. "A Relaxed Approach by Faldo." New York Times, (February 29, 1996): B11.
Farrell, Andy. "Faldo Drives Down Memory Lane to See Reflection of Woods." The Independent, (July 16, 2002): 24.
Garrity, John. "The Devil Made Him Do It." Sports Illustrated, (April 19, 1999): G44.
Huggan, John. "All New Nick?" Golf Digest, (June 2002): 116.
McDonnell, David. "Faldo: It's Fanny-Tastic to Have You Back." The Mirror, (July 18, 2001): 42.
Reilly, Rick. "Do You Know Me?" Sports Illustrated, (April 8, 1991): 77.
Reilly, Rick. "Very British Open." Sports Illustrated, (July 27, 1987): 18.
Shapiro, Leonard. "Faldo Battles Spotlight's Glare." Washington Post, (July 21, 1981): D10.
Smith, Shelley. "His Girl Fanny." Sports Illustrated, (August 20, 1990): 24.
Swift, E.M. "Jolly Good Show." Sports Illustrated, (April 17, 1989): 18.
Swift, E.M. "King of Clubs." Sports Illustrated, (July 30, 1990): 34.
"Nick Faldo." PGA European Tour. http://www.europeantour.com/players/bio.sps?iPlayerNo=53 (January 13, 2003).
"Nick Faldo—Biographical Information." PGATOUR.com. http://www.golfweb.com/players/00/13/26/bio.html (January 13, 2003).
The Nick Faldo Website. http://members.aol.com/chrisdicks/faldo.html (January 13, 2003).
Sketch by A. Petruso