Triple malt sets up triple champion Nick Faldo

SIR Nick Faldo’s final Open sounds like a comic caper lampooning Scotland. After cutting his finger on the antler of an ornamental stag’s head, he then turned to whisky to dull the pain before teeing off on Friday morning.

Nick Faldo tees off at St Andrews, but has now decided this will be his last Open Championship. Picture: PA
Nick Faldo tees off at St Andrews, but has now decided this will be his last Open Championship. Picture: PA

From this set of unpromising ingredients Faldo somehow managed to produce a round he is now more than satisfied to let stand as his last in an Open championship. The three-times Claret Jug winner has decided he cannot better the story of shooting a one-under-par 71 at St Andrews, scene of his second Open victory 25 years earlier.

On Friday he did something he didn’t do then; he birdied the Road Hole. He also did something else he didn’t do in 1990, or at any other time in his career – he downed a triple malt minutes before stepping onto the first tee.

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This was a last, desperate attempt to lessen the discomfort from having a finger impaled in a surreal pre-tournament episode. It worked a treat.

Nick Faldo holds the Claret Jug in 1992. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Having prevaricated over when to call it a day, he has now revealed it’s over. “I am done,” he said yesterday. “I am already planning my Open next year. It will be Corporate Faldo next year. You could not stage Friday any better than that. That great reception – I cannot do it any better than that.”

Faldo identified a point just after he secured a birdie at the Road Hole – something he has done only once before, in 2005 – as being when he knew there was a special quality about a moment he now wants to keep sacred.

It wasn’t even when he stood on the Swilcan bridge soaking up the applause in the same pastel yellow sweater he wore when he won his first Open, at Muirfield in 1987. Rather, it was at the devilish Road Hole.

Perhaps surprisingly for someone perceived as cold-hearted and arrogant, tears formed in his eyes as he recounted the moment for The Scotsman yesterday.

“I birdied 17 which was unbelievable,” he said. “I was down there in that swale. The rise was waist-high.

“I said, ‘Someone tell me what happens’. It comes off the putter and went in the hole. I looked to the sky and saw clouds parting. I reckon I saw the spirit of St Andrew up there; the golfing gods of St Andrews were looking after me. I was grateful for that.

“That split second I looked at he sky,” he added. “Honestly I have never done that before – I looked up and saw the clouds. I have never seen anything like that. Someone was up there. Maybe Tom Morris or something. That was my spiritual moment. Amazing.

“I then walked to bridge. I didn’t care what happened then. I had just birdied 17 and that relaxed me. I had already planned the sweater thing; [it would] be cool to stand on the bridge in the 1987 sweater. I was unbelievably fortunate.”

He has just discovered that the current Open Championship is his 100th major appearance. He doesn’t want to risk ruining both the memories and the symmetry by carrying on, even if there are persuasive reasons for him doing so.

“The two next ones are really good stories in my life,” said Faldo yesterday. “Troon is where I first went with my dad in 1973 – if we hadn’t done that, who knows? I was a young golfer. I had just left school. I got inspiration from seeing Jack and Arnold, Gary and Lee, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf

“I had the ability to mimic their swing,” he added. “I did that for two years, 90 per cent of the time on my own against imaginary opponents like Jack and Arnold, or Gary and Lee.

“And then Birkdale – that was my first Open [in 1976]. They were two good stories that I had up my sleeve but I can’t top Friday – playing that good on the back nine, just like the good old days.”

His participation at St Andrews was in serious doubt after that antler incident, which sounds like the kind of misadventure more likely to befall Basil Fawlty than the more serious, uber-cautious Nick Faldo.

“My golf shirt was on the end of the dining room table, I picked it up and threw it over my head as you do,” he recalled. “Behind me on the wall was a stag’s head with antlers – and I stabbed myself. Not good for the golf grip, ­really.”

He made repeat visits to the local hospital to get the cut dressed and glued, the last of them coming just two hours before he teed off on Friday morning with the aim of redeeming himself after a horror opening round. “I didn’t feel like shooting another 83,” he said. “My daughter, Emma, had arrived the night before. I thought, ‘How do you want to be remembered… for having WD [Withdrew] next to my name or by getting a picture on the bridge? But on Thursday night, I thought: ‘Look at this preparation. Everything is wrong!’ ”

On the morning of his final round he took advantage of the rain delay to return to hospital to have the cut glued together more tightly. “They did a really good job – Vivienne Adams was the nurse, I got to know her well,” said Faldo. “I went back to the house at 11:45am and they were saying you are on tee at 12:58pm! So I threw my clothes on and went to the range, but nothing felt good. So we secretly nipped into the clubhouse and I have never done this before – I had an 18-year-old triple ­Glenmorangie before going to the first tee.”

LeslieAnne Wade, his manager and partner, purchased Faldo a triple Glenmorangie in a bid to rouse him from his funk. “I just looked at it and went woof!” recalled Faldo. “I downed a triple Glenmorangie and went to the first tee. It’s a bit late in my career to find the secret to the game of golf.”

When Wade told Faldo’s son and caddie Matthew what she had bought him, he asked: “Did he drink it?” She confirmed he had. “Game on!” roared Michael. Now it’s game over for a contented Faldo.