This is a man who had a fireplace rebuilt in his new house because it was an inch and a quarter off center. He once told the people at his club manufacturers that the loft of a wedge they had sent him was slightly off. They assured him it was perfect. He assured them it was off. They measured it at the local pro shop and assured him nothing was wrong. He assured them they were wrong. When they took the wedge back to the lab, they discovered that it was .01 of an inch off.
But the trouble with being a perfectionist is that the people you meet cannot be taken back to the lab and ground down. Faldo trusts only those who have worked their way up, who are as mad about achievement as he is. "I hate people that have it all handed to them," he says.
If people do not try hard enough, want it badly enough, inspect it closely enough, then they will not be friends of the Faldos. "He looks at golfers going through bad times," says Gill, "and he thinks, They aren't dedicated enough."
Compared with Faldo, who is? Nearly every waking moment presents a chance to work on his swing. He is forever fussing with it, stopping in the middle of airports, fairways and sidewalks to check some tiny morsel of it. In his golf bag he keeps Polaroids of Leadbetter-approved swings so that he can study them during practice rounds. Engrossing dinner conversation to Faldo is a thorough discussion of spine angle in relation to back-swing torque. That alone gets him through to dessert.
"Sometimes it's amazing," he says. "I'll work for three hours hitting bunker shots and get this overpowering urge to stay in there for three more. So I will."
Freud once said that the boy who is the undisputed favorite of his mother has "the feeling of a conqueror," the confidence that he can achieve anything. If anybody was ever his mother's favorite, it was Faldo.
His mother, Joyce, grew up poor. Once when she was a young girl, she was invited to play at a fancy tennis club and left embarrassed and humiliated. "I haven't had the proper grounding [lessons]," she said to herself. She vowed then and there that if she ever had a child, it would be the only one, and she would fairly smother it in grounding.
She met a tall, quiet military policeman named George Faldo at a party outside London in 1946 and married him a year later. They moved into a small council house in a middle-class London suburb called Welwyn Garden City, and she bore him Nick—and only Nick—in 1957. By then the bookish George was an accountant at a chemical company, and his persuasive powers were no match for those of Joyce, who was tall, pretty and, says Nick, "could talk wallpaper off walls." She was dead set on serving Nick every kind of appetizer life could fit on a menu. She tried to interest him in acting. She took him to classical music concerts and to the opera. She took him to Harrods for the fashion shows. ("He has fantastic legs, you know," she says.) She took him to the zoo and to the museums. She bought him a recorder to play.
But the David Niven Starter Kit just didn't take. Nick fidgeted at concerts and suffered Harrods only for the sweets department. He stuffed tissue in the recorder so that it wouldn't work. What he loved was sports. Nick was that kid you hated in school, the one who was good at everything. He was a county-class swimmer, a wonderful canoeist and bicyclist, a terrific soccer goalie, runner, discus thrower, basketball player and cricket player. However, no sport captivated him until he saw Nicklaus play in the 1971 Masters on the telly. Nick was 14. Joyce offered to pay for golf lessons. Nick accepted.
When you think about it, golf is made for perfectionists. There are no teammates to screw up on defense. There are no opponents to send the ball back at you with topspin. There are no 24-second clocks, no screaming fans and no excuses. It is your problem and nobody else's if you're lying at the bottom of that lake in three.