Nick Faldo on how to win the Open at Muirfield (2/2)July, 2013
The man who twice conquered the field at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers explains what it takes to triumph on the fabled links – and why it is such a revered test
“They all have fantastic design attributes. Again, I think fortunately when I was going there winning I didn’t appreciate how difficult 16 was, the hole location, how much that green falls off, lucky I didn’t appreciate that.
“I’d got better vision then. I just didn’t look, I hit it, then I hit it again. On 16, that left side of green was way more difficult than I realised, and then 17, you’ve got the bunkers off the tee and even though it can play as a two-shot par 5, that second shot, if you leave that right, you really are struggling.
“And then 18 is two really demanding shots. And that green again, that green is way smaller and way more undulating than I really remembered.”
Can he think of a better closing hole?
“No, not really, I think that’s why everybody likes it.”
That brings us to the burning question – what it will take to conquer Muirfield later this month.
“It all depends what gets thrown at them. I think guys who can control a trajectory, it’s pretty important because, especially the second time, I really understood the run in to the smaller greens.
“We had them already mapped out and so I actually could use some of those humps and bumps to my advantage and that’s really important to know because you see a pin and you think ‘I can’t go at that pin’ but you can find a way of bouncing it off a hump.
“Or you’ve got to know, this is uphill, this is downhill, this is left to right, you need to know that, how to feed it into the greens. I think that was a major part of winning the second one for me.”
Faldo is a full-time TV analyst in the States these days and last played in the Open at St Andrews in 2010. The lure of Muirfield, though, has proved irresistible.
“I’ve been fighting it for years,” he said. “It suddenly just hit me. I thought, ‘Come on, this is one more walk,’ and I’ll probably never get a chance to walk at Muirfield. If I can just hit a few solid long irons, who knows what could happen? I could just go play and enjoy the shot.”
Faldo has chosen his son, Matthew, to caddie for him during the week – as he did during the 2007 Senior Open Championship that was also at Muirfield. We should not, though, expect this to be part of a comeback.
“I would love to still be able to play like I used to but I’m just really into so many other things now.
“If I necked it and missed it right, with that pin right, you wouldn’t get up and down because it’s just concrete, you wouldn’t be able to stop the darn thing.” “It’s nice to play but I’m not a ceremonial golfer. I’m not going to go there and chop it round. You’re not going to enjoy hitting 77 but 77 might be the best you can do. There’s no fun in me going out there and struggling for five hours, I just wouldn’t want to do it.”
“I don’t think we should take a place in the field but I think it would be very interesting to do something,” says Faldo.
“I’d definitely bowl up on a Thursday and go and play 18 as a special group and if they put up a salver for us, fantastic. I think that would be fantastic. Just for 18 holes, send us out. Just put us out in the middle of the field for an hour, something like that.
“We’re not going to go out at 7 in the morning, I don’t get up that early.
“Or at the end of the last hour of play, would kind of make sense.
“I think that would be really quite nice if we went and just played 18, if you want to go and play. Maybe just make it who makes the most birdies wins. You don’t have to put a score down.
“The hardest thing is, it’s wonderful to be acknowledged but you don’t want to be out there making 84, there’s no fun in that. I don’t want people to say ‘Oh poor Faldo, he can’t get it airborne’. I’m not into that.”
Faldo’s victory years
1987 – 18 straight pars and Zinger
Having taken the decision to interrupt a highly successful career and rebuild his swing with David Leadbetter some three years earlier, this was the moment all the hard work paid off. Many had questioned the logic but here was Faldo’s justification as he landed the first of what would be six Majors. He did it the hard way, making 18 consecutive pars on a final day at Muirfield where he trailed for much of the time. With two holes to play, Paul Azinger led by a shot, only to bogey both of the last two holes. Faldo sent a 5-iron into the heart of the final green to land the Claret Jug.
1992 – The best ever four holes
Faldo matched the achievement of James Braid almost 100 years earlier by becoming the second to win two Opens at Muirfield.
After a second-round 64 in breezy conditions he had dominated the championship, only to fall back on the final day as John Cook, the American playing in his second Open, made a surge.
Standing on the 15th tee, a four-shot lead at the start of the day had turned into a one-stroke deficit.
With three bogeys since the turn, Faldo resolved to play the best four holes of his life. A drive and 5-iron into three feet set up an unlikely birdie at the 15th, then he got up and down to save par at the short 16th.
Faldo finessed a long iron into the heart of the 17th green and duly made a two-putt birdie
“That second shot I hit, the 4-iron I hit on the 17th on the Sunday in 92, was one of the best 4-irons I ever hit because I aimed 20 foot left and I hit it 20 foot left.
“If I necked it and missed it right, with that pin right, you wouldn’t get up and down because it’s just concrete, you wouldn’t be able to stop the darn thing.”
At the last, a 3-iron was fizzed into the early-evening gloom and ran up to the back of the green. Even then, the two-putt par for the Jug was no formality but he cosied a very slippery downhiller to the hole side and tapped in.