Nick Faldo is stripping. Off comes his blazer. Then his tie. Then the 6' 4" Englishman ditches his shirt, exposing a brawny, hair flecked chest and a medallion dangling from his neck. It's the kind of hasty disrobing you'd expect from a sweaty rock star between sets, not a 52-year-old golf analyst in the 18th-hole tower at L.A.'s Riviera Country Club. A team of CBS Sports technicians and production assistants mill about the cramped booth, pretending not to notice the half-naked legend.
CBS has just wrapped its coverage of the 2009 Northern Trust Open, its last tournament until the Masters seven weeks later, but Faldo doesn't have time for hugs and handshakes. Tucson, and next week's gig with the Golf Channel, is calling. He slips into a sporty gray zip-up and disappears. As Faldo winds his way down a path next to the sprawling stucco clubhouse his 22-year-old daughter, Natalie, and her boyfriend in tow the vultures begin circling. Just a few at first ("Nick!"). Then a dozen ("Nick, over here!). Then it's a swarm of visors and Sharpies (Mr. Faldo, please!!! Mr. Faldo!!!). Just steps away, Phil Mickelson, the tournament's winner, bursts out of a clubhouse door. "Phil!" a fan shrieks. But Faldo's flock is unmoved, swelling larger still as the announcer scribbles madly.
"That's what I grew up with," Natalie says minutes later in the welcome calm of a CBS trailer. "He's still being mobbed. That's Dad. That's who he is."
It's been 13 years since Faldo last won a major, but thanks to two high-profile TV jobs, a deep portfolio of businesses, and a Ryder Cup captaincy that drew more attention to Faldo than his players, Britain's most captivating golfer is more captivating than ever to us Yanks, anyway. "I don't think there's any question that in terms of his Q-rating, his stature, and his ability to get a table at any restaurant in America, Nick Faldo has definitely caught up," says Jim Nantz, Faldo's CBS partner. "People are starting to get to feel like they know him." And not just common folk. On the Friday of Riviera week, two nights before the Oscars, Faldo found himself hobnobbing with the cream of Hollywood at an exclusive house party in the Hills. Working the room with the confidence of a Best Actor nominee, the golfer chatted with his countryman Hugh Laurie, laughed it up with his old buddy Michael Douglas, and generally sopped up the scene. "The biggest A-list group I've ever been with," Faldo marvels. "And they were all mingling and happy because there were no photographs being taken, no paparazzi. It was as private as it gets, and I think that's what A-listers like. They can go and be themselves."
He thinks that's what A-listers like? As if Faldo doesn't know. Since joining the golf analyst ranks in earnest in 2004, Nasty Nick, with his sideburns and skinny ties, has become the Ryan Seacrest of golf: hip, tireless and seemingly everywhere you turn. Banking some 240 hours of airtime annually between CBS and the Golf Channel, Faldo is among the game's most prolific pundits, a deeply ironic duty that he has performed largely to positive reviews. "It's funny," says David Leadbetter, Faldo's swing coach of 13 years. "Nick was never very comfortable with the press. Now he is the press."
And so much more. When not dissecting swings and psyches on the PGA Tour, Faldo runs a small empire, which, with his TV income, nets him far more than he ever pocketed as a player. Faldo has his name on courses (20 in 15 countries, and another 20 in the works); wines (three varieties, bottled in South Africa); golf schools (one in England, three in the U.S.); an international network of junior tournaments (4,000 participants and a recent grad named Rory McIlroy); and a fledgling resort management business. There's also his Rent-a-Nick appearances (he's all yours for $100,000); corporate alliances (Citigroup, TaylorMade-adidas); magazine columns and book deals (his 2004 autobiography already needs an addendum); and, in 2008, a Ryder Cup captaincy (a full-time job in itself). All while trying to find time for his children (four from two of his three marriages); his fishing rod (his escape); and not lastly his swing (Faldo is tuning up to play this month's British Open, his 33rd Open start).