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In February 1984, still married to Melanie, he took Gill with him to the Hawaiian Open. When the press found out—as he knew it would—the divorce came and Faldo felt free. In Gill, Faldo had someone who didn't flinch when he said he was going to hit balls for the fourth hour that day. In Gill, he had someone who didn't mind running on Nick Standard Time.
Mothering came in handy those days, because Faldo was finding it hard to please Faldo. Perfectionists do not much go in for 11th place. He was in contention at the British Open at Birkdale for three days in 1983 but choked coming down the stretch and would not forgive himself. He won five European tournaments in '83 and Hilton Head in the U.S. in '84—a career for most players—but felt sick about his game. Six victories but no majors is all right if you want to do a thing well. However, six victories and no majors is bloody torture if you want to be perfect. So he did something pretty stupid and pretty desperate: He took what many people thought was the prettiest swing in Europe and trashed it. In 1985 he met with Leadbetter at his club in Grenelefe, Fla., and said, "Throw the book at me."
Leadbetter began the total redesign of his swing. Faldo worked harder than ever. He hit 1,500 shots a day, until his hands bled. He used up enough videotape for a Fellini film. He would break only for lunch. After six months he had fallen to 42nd on the European money list. This is like finishing behind the LaRouche candidate. He came back to Leadbetter, who smiled and said, "Right, then. Now we start work on the downswing."
Faldo became a beginner again. He would draw an imaginary line in the grass between the ball and his left heel, just to make sure he was lined up right. He took practice swings during tournaments, just like a 17 handicapper. In time, out of sheer repetition, his swing became a living monument to efficiency, simple and pure, with no wasted motion, no flying elbows or signature loops. He started to hit the ball low and laser-straight, which is the true path to the silver claret jug of the British Open. He became an exceptional short-iron player. His putting became so sharp that he is now considered second only to Ben Crenshaw in ability to hide little white balls in little round holes.
Yet when that two-year ordeal was over and Faldo had defeated Azinger with those 18 consecutive pars at Muirfield, he was still mocked. "People said I was playing defensively," he says. "But I was shaking trying to make those putts."
The package became complete in 1990, when Faldo fired his caddie, Andy Prodger, and hired Fanny. "She says more to me in one hole than Andy said to me in a week," says Faldo. Come to think of it, Fanny is a lot like Gill—fabulously efficient, nearly clairvoyant when it comes to his needs, chatty and ever cheerful.
At the '89 Masters, Faldo made eight birdies on the last day, plus one more on the second playoff hole to beat Scott Hoch in the dusk. What did he hear for that? Only how Hoch had gagged from two feet on the first playoff hole. What was Faldo but some foreigner who swept up after messy Americans? So he descended on the Masters again the next year, this time making up four shots in the last six holes, squashing the par 5s into par 4s and bearing down on the sentimental favorite, 47-year-old Raymond Floyd. Again Faldo found himself in a playoff, and again the tournament came down to No. 11, where, again, somebody cast a bone-head spell on the American. Floyd hit his drive, ducked into a portable toilet and then hurried his second shot. Faldo whispered to Fanny, "What's the rush?"
Floyd made a dreadful swing, sticking the toe of his seven-iron into the ground on the way down, producing a shot that might be duplicated only by Gerald Ford with a feathery. Faldo thought, My god, what has he done? The ball, humiliated, hid itself in the middle of a pond. Faldo had his matching green jackets. Yet, what was Faldo now but some foreign killjoy?
Then Faldo went to St. Andrews for the British Open. Paired with Norman in the lead on Saturday, he carved the Shark into sushi, 67-76, and went on to an alarming five-stroke win that included exactly zero three-putts on St. Andrews's massive greens. Well, I'll never do that again. The victory was Faldo's most glorious, for he had stomped the St. Andrews tournament record by six shots. This was no mop-up job. This was nothing but exquisite shot-making and very nice sweaters.
Of course, it didn't change Faldo at all the way Matthew did.