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Starting Over
Sally Jenkins
March 11, 1996
In golf or in love, Nick Faldo is not afraid to begin anew, no matter the consequences
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March 11, 1996

Starting Over

In golf or in love, Nick Faldo is not afraid to begin anew, no matter the consequences

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Faldo's ability to do whatever he feels is necessary sustained him during a major psychodrama at the Ryder Cup. The Faldo union was coming apart in public even as he was securing the Cup for Europe. Outwardly he was the same steady player, the most even-toned member of the team, while Gill played the loyal wife. However, behind the scenes Gill's tears flowed along with the champagne, as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED senior writer Tim Rosaforte describes in his forthcoming book on the Ryder Cup, Heartbreak Hill. European captain Bernard Gallacher called their behavior "a terrific professional performance by both of them."

Just as members of the European team, minus Faldo, who was already in the States, and their wives were boarding the Concorde for the trip to Rochester, N.Y., lurid headlines on newsstands at London's Heathrow Airport blared that Faldo was preparing to divorce his wife. Gill, who was to meet her husband in Rochester, made the trip anyway. By the time the Europeans arrived in upstate New York, Gill was so suspicious of the press that when she couldn't find her hotel room key she had the locks changed, fearing she would find reporters hiding in the closets. Gill was a steadfast supporter throughout the matches. When Faldo sank a four-foot putt on the last hole of his singles match with Curtis Strange to give Europe its crucial lead, Gill tried to embrace her husband, but she got only a halfhearted response.

As the European celebration swelled through the clubhouse and continued into the evening, Gill was a forlorn figure, drinking champagne by herself with no sign of her husband. During the closing dinner Gill drifted to a group of American players. She tried to talk to Fred Couples and Davis Love III about her marriage, asking them to intercede with Faldo. Awkwardly they tried to comfort her. Then she began hugging players and wives, suggesting she wouldn't be seeing them again. "I hope this never happens to you," she said to one of the wives. Suddenly Faldo appeared at her shoulder. "All right, dear," he said smoothly and led her away.

In early November, after attending a Celine Dion concert with Gill and their two older children, Faldo left the family's $4.5 million mansion for his second home, near Orlando, which is his U.S. base when he plays the Tour. The tabs were already going berserk, identifying Cepelak and relating purported details of their romance. Among the more tasteless headlines: FALDO SEDUCED ME LIKE A TRUE ENGLISH GENT and NO SEX TILL THIRD DATE. Faldo thought he was prepared for the onslaught, but it surprised him nevertheless. "We expected the worst," Faldo says, "and that's exactly what we got."

On campus at Arizona, Cepelak was all but physically attacked by paparazzi. One day she had to ride to class in the trunk of a friend's car. Two photographers, who burst into a classroom and began snapping her picture, became so truculent that they were arrested. In Surrey the media camped outside the family home and tried to interview the children. All of which Faldo relates in his typically phlegmatic fashion, with little outward indication of outrage. While such stoicism might be a useful survival tactic, his brand is not particularly attractive. It makes Faldo seem almost bloodless: He left, with barely a backward glance, yet another wife—and this time three children—for a younger woman. Leadbetter says that in actuality the separation from his children has been a lingering source of pain for Faldo and that he tries to call them once a day. But Faldo might never be able to undo the perception that he is as self-serving in his private life as he is on the golf course.

Faldo and Cepelak have been able to travel largely unmolested in the last few weeks and have obviously decided not to hide from public view. Meanwhile Faldo has been able to refocus on his game. After a disappointing opening round of even par at Doral, he hit five buckets on the practice tee, until the sun had gone down, sweat poured off him, and he had blown a dinner engagement. "He wants to get it right," says Cepelak. So instead of a big night at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach, Faldo took her to Chili's. So long as things remain comparatively peaceful, it's a good bet that Faldo will contend for the Masters, toward which he clearly is aiming. His always methodical preparation coupled with his new happiness could mean another coming of age and a third green jacket.

But the question Faldo must address at some point is, Just how many new beginnings is one man allowed to have? Particularly when they have such a dramatic effect on the people around him. While Cepelak appears to be good for Faldo, as one Tour wife delicately put it, "I hope he's good for her."

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