Why does nick Faldo have to be like this? Why does he have to be this mechanical man with the wrinkle-proof sweater and smile-proof mouth and 75-proof swing? What is it that makes him want to be the world's most impeccable grouch? What makes him insist on playing his practice rounds alone? Why does he avoid his own playing partners like ground under repair? What makes Faldo want to do this terrific lifetime impression of Ben Hogan? It's true, you know. Every time Faldo says "nice shot" to somebody, they put up another pyramid in Egypt.
Why can't the real Nick Faldo let people in? Oh yeah, Faldo is real, all right. If you had been with him that week in 1988, dreading the ring of that phone, you would know. Every ring could have had the obstetrician on the other end saying the tests were positive. You try spending a week wondering every time the phone rings whether you're about to lose the son you haven't even met yet and see how mechanical you are.
You've never seen a mannequin cry? Faldo cries. He cries at movies. He cried at The Phantom of the Opera. He cries when his four-year-old daughter, Natalie, gets on the phone four weeks into one of his eight-week road trips and asks when he's coming home. He cried a lot during the years when he barely spoke to his first wife, Melanie, couldn't wait to leave the house, couldn't wait for a divorce, but was too British to admit he had blown his marriage. He has cried plenty after some of his try-to-break-the-world-record-for-hotel-room-golf-bag-kick sessions. Even Gill, his current wife, used to walk out of the hotel room when he got like that.
So what makes him hold back in public? How come he does his funny impressions only for his caddie? How come he's charming and witty and emotional only when nobody is around to write about it? When he was about to win the 1987 British Open, he sat in the scorer's trailer, head down, not willing to look at the television set and watch Paul Azinger miss the 30-foot putt that could have tied him. When Azinger missed it, Faldo cried like a baby. Yet he wiped away the tears, stiffened the lip and went to the press conference with all the emotion of a can of Lysol. Yeah, the tin man has a heart. So why can't anybody see it?
Good luck finding the inner Faldo when he tees up next week at the Masters. Much too much on the line there. He will be on history's footbridge. If he wins, he will be the first man to three-peat Augusta—and the first in 35 years to three-peat any major—and that means outclassing Nicklaus and Palmer and even Hogan himself. And should Faldo win, American golf fans will pour themselves tall hemlocks all around.
In this country Faldo is about as popular as cucumber sandwiches and warm beer. Greg Norman's face appears on everything but the $10 bill, but when was the last time you saw Faldo telling you which ball to hit? Maybe it's because Norman is out there making double eagle, double bogey, miracle par, hide-the-razor-blades triple bogey, and Faldo is going par-par-par-par. Faldo won that British Open over Azinger by making 18 straight pars on Sunday, wearing the same face you use while the banker goes over your loan application.
Maybe another reason he's unpopular is the way he ices people. Faldo is the only pro-am partner on tour who could make you beg for J.C. Snead. He is always walking five yards ahead of you, forcing you practically to jog to hold a conversation with him, which, of course, is the point. He has two moods: 1) annoyed, and 2) about to be annoyed. He is forever cursing the wind, the crowds, the photographers and the designer of this mess he's having to play in. "The one guy I hear the most complaints about from amateurs is Faldo," says one U.S. player. "They're always telling me, 'Who does this Faldo think he is?' "
Who he thinks he is, is maybe the greatest player in the world, and if he just made bogey, it was probably your fault. Over the first seven holes of this year's Australian Open, in Sydney, he yelled at a marshal, backed off putts twice because of some little annoyance, made another marshal move even though the man was 50 feet behind the hole, complained to the crowd about the greens and acted as if he was about to bury his club in the ground three times, only to pull back at the last second. Through those seven holes he was one over par. "To tell you the truth," says a golf reporter who is a friend of Faldo's, "I can't stand to watch him play."
Faldo's idea of dinner out is room service on the balcony. His putter is the leading cause of hotel carpet wear in the Western world. If you see him out with another pro, it must be your imagination. "Now hold on," says Faldo. "I have lots of friends on the tours—Nick Price, David Frost, Ian Baker-Finch."
Ian Baker-Finch? He is still steaming over the way Faldo treated him on the final day of last year's British Open. Each time Faldo would hit a shot, the spectators would scamper ahead to set up for his next shot, not waiting for Baker-Finch to hit. "Not once did Nick try to stop them," says Baker-Finch.