Until he was 14, Nick was an all-around athlete, participating in every school sport except gymnastics—soccer, rugby, basketball, cricket, track (800 and 1,500 meters) and field (discus). He raced bicycles on Welwyn Garden's banked track, played tennis, had dance lessons, even took a five-day course in skiing on dry slopes—anything Joyce could dream up to keep him busy. "No way was he going to hang about watching the box," she says.
Nor was Nick's artistic potential overlooked. He was taken to ballet and opera at Covent Garden, plays at the Mermaid, even fashion shows at Harrods. His parents say he loved it all, except opera.
When he was three months shy of 14 and on Easter holiday from school, Nick watched "the box" long enough to see part of the 1971 Masters. "Afterward, I just said, 'Mother, I'd like to try that.' " Once again Joyce sprang into action, although neither she nor George knew anything about golf. Within a day Nick's first lesson had been booked. "We knew right away this was different from what had gone before," Joyce says.
On his 14th birthday Nick played his first round of golf. The half-set of clubs he used was a birthday present from his parents. "A half-set probably cost about 50 quid," says Nick. "It would have been a lot of money for them."
The 1st hole was 460 yards, and Nick hit a drive, a three-wood and a seven-iron onto the green. "I remember the sprinklers were on, the old-fashioned ones—tsh, tsh, tsh," he says. "I didn't know the club rules, and I didn't think I was allowed on the green, so I picked my ball up."
The beginning of golf was the beginning of the end of Faldo's formal education. "I loved school, until golf came along," he says. "Then the only thing I was interested in was getting out of the gates as quick as possible and going to the golf course."
Family discussions at the dinner table over what Nick might do for a living grew serious when, just short of his 16th birthday, he said he wanted to quit school. "At school he did technical drawing and loved it," says George. "We knew someone who could have gotten him a job, but we ran up against a wall. 'I'm not going into an office,' he said. End of conversation. So we whittled away, and then he announced he wanted to be a golfer. We said, 'Well, how do you make a living at that?' "
The obvious way was to work as an assistant in a pro shop, a job that paid only four pounds (about $10) a week, a sum insignificant enough that his parents encouraged him instead to work on his game. So Nick was allowed to skip a tedious phase of the typical British pro's education. "That was probably the biggest break," says Faldo. "Sitting around in a shop I think would have killed me."
Every morning for the next two years, with his clubs strapped to a rack on the front of his bike, and his lunch, always cheese-and-pickle sandwiches and a chocolate biscuit, packed in a Tupperware bowl in a rucksack on his back, Faldo pedaled across the field behind his house and through the woods to the golf course. He would play until it was time to return for the evening meal. His hands bled, he wore out a glove a week, and he couldn't have been happier. He was an athlete who had finally found his game. "I loved the routine, even the same lunch every day," he says. "I'd get frustrated or tired but never bored. I was my own boss, and I controlled the routine."
Faldo's rise in the amateur ranks was as startling as Lyle's was predictable. Having first set foot on a golf course in July 1971, he was selected for the England Boys team in the summer of 1974. Lyle was one of his teammates. Faldo had made up the difference in their staggered start in barely three years.