'Rory needs to turn Portrush pressure into adrenaline'
Nick Faldo, Open champion in 1987, 1990 and 1992, and also a three-time winner of the Irish Open, looks back at his own experiences in the game’s oldest major and also ahead to Portrush
Sir Nick Faldo knows a thing or two about arriving at the Open Championship as the home favourite. He offers his advice to Rory McIlroy as well as reminiscing about how he used to prepare for the game’s oldest major in a far-reaching interview.
Do you think we will ever have seen so much attention on a home player at the Open than Rory will face at Portrush and what advice would you give him?
Rory, you’ve got to use it. I wouldn’t say ‘it’ was the pressure, it would be the pure adrenaline. The support would be off the charts. If you could channel that into it carrying you playing out of your boots that would be the way to cope with that.
Your three Claret Jugs all came in Scotland rather than England. Was that just coincidence?
That was a coincidence about me winning in Scotland. It was the British Open moons ago, now it’s the Open, so I never regarded there to be a border. I think I called myself British more than English. Unless I’m doing my Austin Powers impersonations – then I’m English.
As Nick Faldo the player, did you sense a different atmosphere from one venue to the next or did it always just feel like an Open with the same sights and sounds and smells?
No, the atmosphere was always good. I loved playing the Irish Open way back in 1976, I think and it was always a great atmosphere. And I won it. I won the Irish Open three times. I love the atmosphere in Ireland and you’re always going to have great stories. Yes, the whole experience will be unbelievable. You’ve got to battle the golf course and the elements will more than likely be a major part of it.
There is a school of thought that Tiger’s best chance of further majors will come at the Masters and Open, where experience and craft tend to count for a little more. Do you agree? How do you assess his chances at Portrush as Nick Faldo the TV summariser?
Well, I personally think that what he needs is nice, hot weather to keep that back mobile and I think Tiger’s best chance is to stay fit every April.
I’m not sure about the British, or good old Irish, weather. It’s going to be in the 60s and raining, waterproofs on and off, carrying umbrellas. I’m not sure that’s the best test for Tiger. I think Augusta is really suited to him perfectly.
Does the fact nobody has played an Open at Portrush make it a more level playing field? Or does links-craft still apply regardless?
Yes, I guess there’s a little bit of the fact not many players have any local knowledge, real experience. But if you want to win the Open, I suggest getting there and preparing.
It’s going to be very different if you get a good old 30mph wind – that is hugely different on a links. And if it’s going to be raining and nasty you better be comfortable playing in a comfortable set of waterproofs so yes it’s worth doing a bit of local preparation.
When we prepared for the Open moons ago we were actually at Gleneagles the week before which was actually quite good because it was nice turf, the same similar sort of turf, although obviously a different style of golf course.
But I mentally put myself in Open mode and I would intentionally hit knockdown shots or swing slower and smoother as if I was preparing for the wind.
My mind was probably more on preparation than the tournament. So I was happy if just played nicely. I wasn’t worried about winning or about doing great.
I just wanted to leave there on Sunday – actually it was Saturday in the good old days – and feel that my game and striking the ball were ready to go a links. We usually used to get there by Sunday and play practice rounds every day. That was how we prepared.
Are you a fan of the Open going to new venues? Or do you think the current rota is well stocked?
Yes, I am a fan of the Open going to new venues. We probably have got a pretty good rota now. I’m sure we have got at least 10, haven’t we. So that would kind of make sense.
Can you remember the experience of playing an Open for the first time at a certain venue? It must have been very different in terms of how Nick Faldo prepared, compared to going back to a venue you were very familiar with
It’s always a weird feeling to back to an Open and you realise over 10 or 12 years ago have gone by and it was quite a nasty shock to the system. Where did those 10 years go? You drive into the same town and remember things haven’t changed a lot.
The sound of the Open was similar because they used that metal fencing which made a wonderful ring.
So you’d play a practice round. And if the weather was good, especially down more in England at Royal St George’s on a sunny breezy day, you’d hear the skylarks singing away.
So, yes, the Open sounds different. The ball sounds different when you strike it. Bunker shots are different – when you are deep in a pot bunker on your own, you get your own echo, you get your own thud.
Yes – the Open is different in almost every way.