The Devil said to Nick Faldo. "I'll grant you these wishes, but they come at a price."
Faldo responded, "I'll pay any price."
It was 1985, and the 27-year-old Faldo was in that state to which golf reduces most men. He was frustrated, angry and jealous of the success of others. Faldo's game was formidable but not top rung. His shots ballooned in the wind. His swing broke down under pressure. He had let the 1983 British Open wriggle out of his grasp, and the London tabloids derided him as FOLDO.
So the Devil visited Faldo in his modest home in a London suburb. The hedgerows were heavy with new growth and the spring flowers were in bloom, but Faldo was not the sort to stop and smell the roses. He eagerly accepted the Devil's terms.
Now it's 1999, and Faldo is in torment. He has lost his second wife to divorce, along with his three children and his mansion in Windlesham. His nearly $600,000-a-year club endorsement contract with Mizuno has expired. He has seen his 900,000 shares of Adams Golf stock fall from a high of $18.88 to $4.06 a share at week's end. He has lost his American girlfriend, who expressed her disapproval of his Faustian bargain by smashing the bonnet of his Porsche with a nine-iron. Finally—and this is the hell of it—he has lost his skills. Last week Faldo shot 80-73 at the Masters and missed the cut for the third straight year.
Some will argue that Faldo's pain is self-inflicted. He chose to leave his wife and children in England when he moved to Florida in 1995 to play on the PGA Tour. He chose to have a relationship with a college coed 18 years his junior. He chose, last summer, to fire David Leadbetter, the golf coach who made his swing so effective that it won him three claret jugs and three green jackets.
Did the Devil make him rude? His playing companions said Faldo made the grim Ben Hogan look affable. Faldo yelled at marshals and scowled at photographers, and when he was given a chance to be gracious, after winning the 1992 British Open at Muirfield, he thanked the media "from the bottom of my, well, from my bottom, maybe." Little wonder that he still plays his practice rounds alone, trailed by one of the few remaining persons willing to share his blighted life-caddie Fanny Sunesson. An employee.
But isn't that how the Devil works? He shows you how to get what you want and grins while you destroy yourself in the pursuit of your goal. In Faldo's case, the Devil said, "You can have it all. Just let nothing and nobody stand in your way." Following this advice, Faldo mastered the golf swing but mismanaged his life; disciplined his nerves but disrupted his family; reached for greatness but overreached and fell.
If the third ring of hell doesn't include a double-dogleg par-5, it's only because Dante never met Faldo. Faldo can no longer putt. He can no longer chip. When he hits an approach shot, he often yanks it left or airmails the green. His last win was the 1997 Nissan Open, but that victory now seems the work of another man. This Faldo—the one suffering from Baker-Finch syndrome—finished 163rd on last year's money list, has plummeted to 99th in the world rankings and is 28 over par in his last six rounds at Augusta. At this year's Players Championship, Faldo shot a third-round 83 and then got disqualified the next day when he hit his ball into a tree and misinterpreted rule 27 (the lost ball rule). Afterward he said, "I wish there were no tomorrow."
Judging from Faldo's Masters performance, the Devil was listening.