The British are in love with Nick Faldo, the player they used to hate. The toffs love him and tap their spoons approvingly on teacups. The yobbos love him and cry, "Croosh 'em, Nickie," from the beer tents. So partisan were the crowds at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, where Faldo struggled to catch America's Tom Lehman on Sunday, that you expected to see some boozy Manchester United fan pick up Faldo's ball and carry it to the hole.
"I can feel the support," Faldo said on Thursday, "and I appreciate it."
He did not, however, offer to analyze it. Which is understandable. When you've been derided by your countrymen as " Nick Faldo" and turned into sensational fodder by your nation's tabloids, you're not about to question unqualified love.
But when his head hit the pillow on Sunday night, England's greatest living player must have wondered what he had done to gain his country's affection. Was it quitting England, with its high taxes, and moving to Florida? Was it criticizing the European tour for its backwardness and joining the richer American circuit? Was it, in the end, the simple expedient of divorcing his English family and taking up with an American college girl?
The answer to the Faldo paradox suggested itself Saturday evening at the Royal Lytham practice range. The sun cast shadows as long as an enemy's memory, and only two men were still at work: Faldo, on the far left, and Jack Nicklaus, in the center.
Americans of a certain age might smile knowingly. Nicklaus, like Faldo, was once unpopular. Like Faldo, he worked to win over a critical public and a skeptical press. Some would say that Faldo has gone further than Nicklaus in humanizing himself—Jack learned to look a person in the eye when he spoke and to remember names, but he would never hang from a branch and yell like Tarzan, as Faldo did when his ball went up a tree at the 1992 U.S. Open. But both made an effort to make themselves "lovable."
Another thing the two men share is an almost religious regard for the major championships. Nicklaus's dedication to the Big Four is legendary and helps explain why he has won 18 of them, more than any other player. Faldo's passion for big titles is similarly outsized. In 1984, when he had already won nine European tour events, Faldo junked his swing and started building another with his coach, David Leadbetter. Why? Because Faldo believed that he hit the ball too high to win on the traditionally windy venues of the British Open. With his revamped swing he has won the British three times and had five other top-10 finishes, including his fourth-place on Sunday.
More recently, Faldo noticed that three of the four majors are played on U.S. soil. So he moved onto U.S. soil. He believes that putting on fast American greens and competing against deeper American fields will help him win the two major titles he does not yet own: the U.S. Open (best finish: second, with three top-five finishes in 10 tries) and the PGA Championship (best finish: a tie for second, with four top fives in 14 tries). Those who doubt that he would join the PGA Tour just to improve his chances in those two tournaments need only look back to 1992, when Faldo added two African tournaments to his summer schedule to acclimatize himself to the steamy weather expected in St. Louis, site of that year's PGA.
Did Faldo consciously imitate Nicklaus? It's hard to say. The Englishman stopped hitting balls on Saturday night and stared at the preoccupied Nicklaus as if something significant could be learned from the back of the 56-year-old golfer. A good guess is that both players somehow stumbled onto the same great secret: Those who honor the game by reaching for its highest prizes ultimately win our hearts.