"In those days the Grand Slam was my goal at the start of every year," Nicklaus says. "That's why I always used to feel like my year was over when I didn't win at Augusta. I knew I had the ability, but an awful lot of things had to go right. I still believe it can be done, but the challenges are enormous. It's very difficult to get your game in top form for four different weeks for four different styles of golf courses, all of which probably don't suit you. No matter how much ability you have, you have to have a lot of luck." Nicklaus believes that only two current players, Norman and Faldo, are capable of pulling it off. Norman made a great run in 1986, when he led each major going into the last round and finished tied for second at Augusta, was 12th at the U.S. Open, won the British Open and was second at the PGA.
Faldo is a subtly different, and arguably better, player now than he was in the early '90s. Since making the U.S. his base in 1995 and playing regularly on the PGA Tour, Faldo has become a more powerful, aggressive player who may not be as consistent but whose best is better than it has ever been. He also has shaken off the influences of playing full time in Europe, where inclement weather and poor conditions encourage shorter swings and lower ball flights, and where bumpy greens often engender a defensive approach to putting to avoid four-foot comebackers for par. In the generally better weather found in the U.S., Faldo is making a freer swing that produces more length (a metal-headed driver has also helped) and a higher trajectory on his approach shots. On the best greens in the world Faldo has become a bolder putter. "You get more targeted with your irons in America," he says. "I'm also trying to hit longer drives, and I have a better attitude with my putting. I go for the first putt and, if I don't get the one coming back, tough. You have to take that approach because the winning scores are so low."
In the quest for more birdies Faldo this spring instituted a running bet with Fanny Sunesson, his longtime caddie. If Faldo makes a par or worse, he has to pay. Sunesson pays twice as much, but only when Faldo makes a birdie or better. To win any money, Faldo has to make at least six birdies per round. "It's been expensive, but it's good conditioning," he says.
Faldo is also free from the fear of failure. When he played in Europe, a poor finish generated headlines. In the U.S., Faldo's week-to-week progress is less scrutinized. "In Europe I would get protective about having a good week because I knew what the reaction would be if I didn't, and it might have made me too conservative at times," he says. "In America if I miss the cut, I don't get any stick."
With a season to acclimate to the PGA Tour under his belt and his personal life on a more even keel now that he has formally split from his wife, Gill, and gone public with his relationship with Brenna Cepelak, Faldo came into 1996 eager to play. At the first tournament of the year, the Mercedes Championships at La Costa in Carlsbad, Calif., he had a revelation. "It sort of dawned on me that week," he says. "I should just go for broke, no matter what happens. It gave me this nice feeling of freedom." That philosophy was validated at Augusta. "Since winning the Masters, I can have a free run at the rest of the season," Faldo says. "I can put my record on the wall and no one can take it away, so I'm using that as a buffer. Winning at Augusta has just made me want to work harder because now I think I can do it again."
If Faldo does it again at Oakland Hills, things will get serious. He knows his concentration and patience will be tested. But as a player whose motivation is to make history, he would like nothing more than that sort of challenge. "The key will be to keep everything simple," Faldo says. "No matter what's going on around you, what matters is thinking properly. At the end of the day, that's all you can do in golf—hit each shot with the right intentions."
Faldo's intentions when it comes to the majors and, yes, the Grand Slam, are very clear.