The Iceman Melteth
That Faldo was able to both stand and deliver was no surprise—the top-rated player in Sony's golf ranking system, he has won the British twice before. No, what was surprising were the tears that streamed down the golfer's cheeks as he peered over at Team Faldo—his mom, dad, wife, coach and caddy—before tapping in the winning putt. The Iceman was melting!
The Faldo that viewers will see at this week's PGA Championship in St. Louis's Bellerive Country Club is a kinder, gender golfer than the hard-eyed predator of the links he used to be. The old Faldo, perhaps the most unpopular player on the tour, practiced alone, moaned incessantly about playing conditions, even made fun of his peers' golf swings.
This Faldo hit a new low in 1980 when he reported fellow pro Sandy Lyle for cheating. In an innocuous but technically illegal act, Lyle put a Band-Aid on his putter to cut the glare from the sun. Faldo saw it and turned him in. Lyle was as puzzled by Faldo's breach of golf etiquette as he was furious.
The new, less-driven and more personable Nick Faldo came into being about six months ago. Faldo declines to say what specifically provoked the redesign. But it seems that his wife, Gill (pronounced Jill), 34, and two young children—Nathalie, 5, and Matthew, 3—have been mellowing agents. "It was clear to me last winter that I had to make changes in myself," says Faldo, who will give much of his $190,000 British Open prize money to charities and medical research. "Before, I never thought about anything except golf. Now I have a family, and they mean the most to me. My two kids have opened up the world, and I'm trying to let other people and activities into my thoughts and life."
Faldo himself grew up an only child in a humdrum middle-class family—his father, George, was a bookkeeper at a chemical company—in a remote suburb of London called Welwyn Garden City. His mother, Joyce, was determined to expose Nick to the higher pursuits: She look him to museums, the opera, Harrods. Nick, alas, was bonkers about sports. Soccer, swimming, track—he excelled at them all.
Then, in 1971, he chanced to switch on the telly and see a man trying to hit a little white ball into a hole. The man was Jack Nicklaus, and the next day Faldo persuaded his always obliging mom to pay for six golf lessons. A few weeks later he played his first 18 and shot a 78, if you don't count the penalty strokes for three lost balls.
Faldo turned pro at age 19. At 21, he married journalist Melanie Rock-all. Faldo has said of this union, "We were happily married for eight months. Unfortunately, we were married for 4½ years." He was consoled by Gill Bennet, his agent's secretary, whom he married in 1986. It was when Gill was discovered traveling with him in 1984 under the name Mrs. Faldo, while he was still married to Melanie, that Nick came under heavy fire from the press for the first time. Through the years, as Faldo honed his sourpuss image—"If I start smiling," he actually told one tabloid, "I might lose track of what I'm trying to do"—the artillery increased, despite his victories in the British Open ('87, '90) and the Masters ('89 and '90).
"You know, you get wiser as you get older," says Faldo, who lives in a $2 million home on an 18-acre estate 20 miles from London. "I've learned how to lighten up."
Indeed, for the first time Faldo is even talking about life after golf—which may kick in, he says, just five years from now. He says he would like to do more charity work, spend more time with his family and fly-fishing for trout.
When it is suggested that he sounds ready for something new to conquer, he says, "I am. Myself. And I feel I've already pretty well licked me."
GORDON ACKERMAN in London