The first of a short series whereby I travel with Nick Faldo through some of his early golfing life and take it to the last years of his playing career.
Brilliant and a monster talent, but Nick Faldo was a troubled champion who became one of the few examples of successfully changing an already successful swing.
My knowledge and memories of Nick Faldo began very early in my golfing life. I first saw him while playing in a youth tournament on the Hertfordshire county tournament circuit. A tall lanky boy two years older than me. He was spanking balls out across the fairways before picking his ball bag up and marching off to collect and begin the process again. The balls were struck perfectly out of the sweet spot and had soaring flights that seemed to hover in the air over the target for an endless time. Little did I know what was in store for this young man in the future, what I did know then was that he was something special.
The lonely journey to be a superstar -Faldo in 1976
A young Faldo`s choice-To be the best means you have to be independent. There will be no time for niceties, little time for chit-chat and socializing. There are few moments for being kind and patient. You will be tested by people wanting a piece of you. Your agent will have to work hard to balance your social events while letting you manage who you decide is someone you want to spend time with. The family will be so important. You are on your own.
Just like one of his future adversaries Greg Norman, Faldo took up the game at the late age of 13. Both were super talents who needed only a short time to play at the highest level.
The young Faldo fell in love with the game shortly after the BBC television coverage of the Masters in 1971 with an inspiring Jack Nicklaus performance that spurred the young man`s fascination with the sport. The eventual winner that year was Charles Coody ( for a high-speed film of the Charles Coody swing click on this link) on nine under par, two shots in front of the Golden Bear, and another exciting newcomer Johnny Miller.
Faldo felt that there were two other specific aspects of the coverage that left a particularly deep impression on him. One was the visual aspect, he enjoyed the stimulating effects of brightly saturated colors on the screen in his comfy living room on a dark wintry night (Fortunately the family had just bought a colour television). The addition of colour that CBS coverage had introduced just five years before meant it was now possible to see the vibrant pink hues of the azaleas, the starch-white bunkers while in contrast to the beautiful variations of green and blue surroundings. There was plenty enough to burn into the brain of a creative thirteen year old lad.
The even greater sense that was animated was an audio one. The sound of the clubface striking the hard ball left an extremely intensive memory that Faldo never forgot.
The early microphones created a vortex of sound that amplified the unmistakable click of balata connecting with persimmon. Additionally, the tunnel of trees that lined every Augusta fairway created a long eerie echoing effect. Faldo explained later how he searched for the same sound when he practiced, and how it took him a long time before he finally achieved an acceptable reproduction. The perceptive approach that the beginner Faldo used in his practice sessions is called Echoic memory and has, interestingly, been proven in tests as a way of enhancing learning development.
More experiences can be found in the early pages of his wonderful biography "Life swings." He generously shares his childhood ambitions, who motivated and inspired him, and how, almost on the first day of learning he dreamed so hard of being a great champion.
One of the memories that Faldo shares in his biography is of his love for Branston pickle and cheese sandwiches. I did as well, and I would also joyfully pack them in my rucksack before heading off to the golf course.
On a more serious note was the admission on how he used a sports therapist in his early years on the tour.
"I was fortunate in being blessed with strong mental discipline but in golf, as in any sport, you need every advantage you can gain over your rivals, which is why I consulted a golf psychologist as far back as 1982."-Faldo
"Vardon mind." 140x140cm acrylic on canvas-click on the image to expand.
"For this game, you need above all things, to be in a tranquil frame of mind."
For me this is just another example of how focused Faldo was on being the best. His decision was taken in the early days of sports therapy when few were using such help.
The beginner young Faldo's first lessons were given by the assistant pro at Welwyn Garden City, Chris Arnold. Faldo would later applaud the first coach for his thorough approach where he was not allowed to hit a ball until he had thoroughly understood the mechanics of the grip.
" I am constantly asked at the clinics I run these days for one tip, and I have to say the most important thing is to learn the fundamentals and start with the grip."
When Faldo finally joined Welwyn he was able to take lessons from the well-established and respected coach Ian Conolly. The scotsman almost certainly immediately recognized the great responsibility he had been given when he first witnessed the early raw talent of the tall skinny lad. Conolly set about in the manner of both mentor and teacher and sought to not only help Faldo build a swing to win a major championship, but also inspire the young boy by telling him stories of past greats.
Pen sketch in A4 size. Pre-Leadbetter days, sliding hips and all. Click the image to enlarge
In 1976 the young Faldo joined the European tour. He had been crowned as English Amateur champion and was just too good for the Amateur game. Faldo announced his professional intentions and promptly became an instant success in his Rookie year, finishing eighth on the Order of Merit in 1977 and third in 1978, before going on to win a European Tour event.
Faldo`s soft knees and sliding hips in his early tour days.
Faldo continued to win going into the 1980s but was becoming frustrated with his inconsistent performances.
It was as he approached the middle of the decade that the first signs of swing inconsistencies were starting to appear more regularly. The advantages of youthful optimism that creates a form of "positive ignorance" were now wearing off. Faldo was now taking advice from other sources as his old coach Ian Conolly was not finding answers.
To his credit, Nick Faldo never blamed any of his problems on the man who taught him in those early days. He saw the good things he had done and remained faithful to those youthfull memories. Teachers in general still had a lot to learn and it is certain that Connolly would have handled Faldo`s developments and problems far better with todays knowledge.
The following films are unique recordings (taken by Bernard Cooke) of the swing that Faldo used in his early days on the tour.
I think his advice was something in the way of creating a feeling of a sling. The drill that the young Faldo was using in this film demonstrates the intentions and teachings that he was following at about twenty years old. Today nearly all teachers would rub their eyes and criticize the poor mechanics being taught. For me, as a teacher with 45 years of experience, it is more of a demonstration of where teaching was at this time.
This second film is a few years later. The complicated movement is now taking its effect and confidence and good putting cannot save the inconsistent long game any more.
Fortunately, help came with the arrival of a new teacher, David Leadbetter. With golf teaching still being a very hit-and-miss affair in the eighties, the few teachers who made a name for themselves had an almost mythical status. They were given Guru reverence, and David Leadbetter was the number one Guru teacher at this time.
The culmination of four years of hard work was about to bear fruit. In 1987 Faldo would win his first Open.
The teacher-pupil partnership of Leadbetter and Faldo began in 1985 in America. Right from the beginning, it was openly declared a two to four-year project.
With a backswing that Leadbetter described as long and willowy and a need to reduce his excessive use of arms, hands, and wrists in the forward movement, Faldo was fully aware of the size of the project he was taking on. Already an 11-time winner on the European Tour meant he would need to be very brave and faithful if he was going to succeed.
Faldo working on the Pre-set Drill advised by his then coach , David Leadbetter.
The first decision was to shorten the backswing and make a better connection between arms and body throughout.
Leadbetter advised his brilliant young pupil to begin the backswing with a wrist cock and then follow that with a turn of the shoulders.
This was the pre-set drill that became synonymous with the Faldo Leadbetter partnership.
Faldo demonstrates a much improved backswing summit