A new Faldo will make his U.S. Champions Tour debut this weekGULLANE, SCOTLAND - JULY 19: Sir Nick Faldo of England walks down the 18th during the second round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 19, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)October 10, 2013
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
CARY, N.C. -- He's here primarily out of "curiosity."
Nick Faldo used the word twice during an interview on a rainy Thursday afternoon on the eve of the SAS Championship. After nine years offering analysis in TV towers by the 18th green, the once steely-eyed, six-time major winner wants to see what kind of a golfer he still is.
Faldo is making his stateside Champions Tour debut this week at Prestonwood Country Club. The 56-year-old plans to play next week, too, at the Greater Hickory Kia Classic at Rock Barn about three hours to the west in the foothills of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Would Faldo love to be in the hunt come Sunday evening? Of course he wants the chance to, as Faldo puts it, "scare myself" once again in a storied career that has spanned more than three decades.
"That was always the thrill," Faldo said. "... As you heard me on television, (it's) how well can you play on Sunday afternoon. The rest of the week doesn't matter. It's the fourth quarter, isn't it? It's the final set, Sunday afternoon, especially in majors.
"If you can play, that's the biggest thrill of this game, going out there and feeling really nervous, apprehensive, everything, but you know you can go out and play your heart out, that's what you're trying to do. So if we can rekindle that a bit here, it will be fun."
At the same time, the World Golf Hall of Famer has come to the Research Triangle with no expectations this week. The goal is to play one good hole, then another and watch the confidence grow.
"I've got to string 18 of them together, that's the real secret," Faldo said.
Faldo didn't do that in his last competitive appearance, shooting 79-78 at Muirfield, where he won two of his three Open Championships, in July. That was the first chapter in what the Englishman calls "How I became a golfer again."
The seeds were sewn earlier this year when Faldo did a commercial for Glenmorangie where he was asked his favorite golf course. He thought about Augusta National, the dramatic coastline at Pebble Beach and the familiar links of St. Andrews but decided on Muirfield because of his history there.
And then Faldo decided to play -- cranky shoulder and all. His son Matthew caddied for him and even though the results were less than satisfactory, Faldo could take solace in the fact that the best players in the world were struggling, too. Most importantly, he enjoyed playing again.
So Faldo started taking a look at the Champions Tour schedule to see what kind of options he had. Fred Couples' caddie suggested the SAS Championship, and the North Carolina double-dip was too good to pass up.
Colin Montgomerie, who played against Faldo when both were in their prime and was a teammate of his at many memorable Ryder Cups, is pleased to see Faldo testing the waters a bit.
"Delighted to see Nick out here, fantastic," said Montgomerie, who has two top-10s in seven Champions Tour starts since turning 50 on June 23. "... I think (if) he got quite competitive again, he could do something."
Bernhard Langer, who defends his title this week at Prestonwood and ranks second in the Charles Schwab Cup, agreed.
"Anybody that's a Hall of Famer and won majors, has a great career, it adds to the tournament, it helps our Tour, so it's great to see these guys compete on a regular basis," Langer said. "It's good for the game of golf.'
Make no mistake, though, Faldo loves his TV gig. And once he decided to give up the game after 29 years as a competitor, the Brit vowed to have no regrets.
"I didn't miss it, no, not really, because I mean, time whizzes by as well," Faldo said. "... And the game's petering off a bit, so as I said, I'm here more out of curiosity because I can. But you're always asked that question.
"Like any athlete, if you had pixie dust and said you can play golf how Nick Faldo played golf 'til the day I die,’ sure, I want to be a golfer because you're an athlete, that's my stage and I loved it. But, as we know, once you can't run, jump and chuck it as far as you used to, it's time to change."
So don't expect Faldo to quit what is now his day job. Not to mention, his golf course design business is flourishing, and the Faldo Series, which nurtures aspiring young golfers in 28 countries around the world, is another pet project.
But he's enjoyed getting to see old friends this week, and Faldo didn't rule out other occasional forays onto the Champions Tour.
"The great thing about golf is, I mean, golfers never die, do they, as the old joke, they simply lose their balls," Faldo said. "So yeah, we're very fortunate you can come back out and keep bashing away. Nice to see old faces I've seen for the last 30 years as a pro. Some I wonder what the hell they're still out there doing, so I'm lucky, I'm fortunate."
As he steps back onto the competitive stage this week, though, Faldo sees himself as much an entertainer as he is a golfer. The Brit was the epitome of focus during his heyday but he's let his dry wit shine during his television work.
"I thought it was quite funny at the Open I birdied the third hole and I turned to the gallery and I said, 'First birdie of the year in July,'" he recalled, raising his arms to the sky. "The old Nick Faldo wouldn't have said a word, gone on to the next."
The new Nick Faldo will go on to the next, too, but this time he'll have a smile on his face.