Twenty-two years later, the 1987 British Open championship at Muirfield is remembered for three things, if it is remembered at all.
One, Nick Faldo won it with a seemingly plodding (but actually remarkable) 18 straight pars in the final round. Two, Paul Azinger, playing in the final pairing as the leader, finished bogey-bogey to lose. "It was my tournament," he said later, "and I lost it." Three, the weather in Scotland was miserable in other words, a typical Open. After one windy, cold and rain-soaked round, diminutive legend Gary Player joked, "I'm so wet, I think I've shrunk a bit."
The '87 Open is a memorable championship, however, because it was the beginning of the Nick Faldo Era. After blowing a lead in the '83 Open and being dubbed "El Foldo" by the heartless British press, Faldo painstakingly rebuilt his swing over several years with the help of instructor David Leadbetter. The final product was on display for all to see at Muirfield, where he won despite struggling with his putting. He turned 30 that week and this major title proved to be the first of six three Opens and three Masters as he evolved into the most formidable major championship player of the decade pre-Tiger Woods.
Faldo has turned into an almost lovable chatterbox since he entered the broadcast booth, where he's now the lead analyst for CBS and Golf Channel and his favorite interjection is the charming, "Crumbs." As a player, he had a Ben Hogan-like intensity that kept the media and other players at arm's length and he only occasionally displayed the witty sense of humor that regularly dresses up his televised commentary.
Now that he's a TV talking head, and therefore perhaps finally a man of the people, it seemed like a good time to ask him to relive that breakthrough Open victory and share what he remembers from a special week:
I had an inkling about that Open. Lead and I worked on some stuff the week before at Gleneagles and we thought I was swinging my best. It was a bit of a psychology thing that week. I was walking past the tented village Wednesday afternoon and gave a glance up at one of those giant yellow leader boards and saw my name on the top. It just came to me in a flash, I imagined it. And I thought, I can handle that. Prior to midweek, I had another vision that I'd be doing breakfast time TV Monday morning from the Marine Hotel with the trophy sitting in front of me on the table. And that's exactly what I was doing Monday morning after the Open.
I don't remember an awful lot about the first two rounds. The weather was miserable. I think I birdied the first three holes and was five under par after 36 holes. I played with Raymond Floyd and Nick Price. Raymond came to me afterward and said, "Wow, I can vouch that you really played well because we played in the worst weather for the first 36, we got the bad part of the draw."
One of my motivating things was that I turned 30 on Saturday at that Open. I thought, you've reached 30, you've got to start winning these majors. I'd done my apprenticeship, I'd been close at the odd Open and learned from that, blew up in '83. I just felt, this is a good time. Another goal I had was that I wanted to be a millionaire before I was 30. That Open took care of that. I still missed the big cash era in golf. In '83, I won five tournaments and was the first guy in Europe to break 100,000 pounds.
We played in the mist on the weekend, like pea soup. The ball was going nowhere. It was the first time I ever experienced what Tony Jacklin called "The Cocoon." Now we call it "The Zone." Honestly, two steps in front of me was my only focal point. The rest was a blur, partly due to the weather and partly because I was completely engrossed. I knew that one good shot could win it for me and one bad shot could cost me the Open. It's a bit of a knife's edge, isn't it?
I played with Azinger on Saturday. I bogeyed the 18th, jammed a chip on the last hole that bumped me out of the final pairing with him Sunday. The crowd really got behind me all weekend. I was up against an American so I wasn't English anymore, I was British. They'll always root for a British player over an American. They were the true golf fans at Muirfield, walking the course with their so'westers and their sandwiches and their kit bags. The fans were tremendous.