“Aw, crumbs!” Nick Faldo says on a balmy fall day at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. “I didn’t look at my brief. Sorry.” He’s referring to the memo his people prepared suggesting that he bring some dashing duds to his GOLF Magazine photo shoot. A crisp blazer and suede loafers, perhaps. Yet he arrives bearing only the clothes on his back: a sweaty black T and ragged jean shorts, making the urbane Brit and winner of six majors look like he’s ready to fix some leaky pipes or hang drywall. But forgive the 49-year-old his forgetfulness. He’s been busy. This year he’s calling the shots as lead analyst both at CBS (for a reported $8 million per year) and the Golf Channel — that’s some 25 Tour events and three of the four majors, including the Masters. Faldo sat down with us to talk about landing his dream job, making nice with a ticked-off Tiger, how he’ll be a bellini to Johnny Miller’s whiskey shot, and the secret to true happiness.
You have the most coveted television job in the game, the lead color analyst at CBS. Just how many times have you pinched yourself?
[Laughs] About 17. It all happened so fast. I was trying to get out of a little fishing boat in Ireland, the Tuesday after the Ryder Cup. It was raining, too cold to fish, and I got a call saying, “CBS has come into the picture.” I literally fell down. I got my leg caught in the rope of the boat and fell. Within a week we were at CBS headquarters in New York signing the contract. That kind of thing doesn’t usually happen at that speed. I’m quite humbled.
Have you started memorizing your Masters-speak? “Patrons” and “first cut,” instead of “fans” and “rough”?
I’ll be walking on eggshells at first. To be safe, I may not actually talk during the Masters — I’ll just use sign language. But I can’t worry too much about that. Still, I hope Augusta will cut me some slack in my first year.
Are you nervous?
Yes, but in a good way. It’s like golf. If you’re not feeling a few butterflies, something’s wrong. But I’m prepared. I know that course so well I could call the action in the dark. I’ll just keep it simple: what’s in a player’s mind when he walks up the last fairway in a major. I’m the “how, what and why” man.
Two years ago, you were a rookie at ABC. You’ve gone from the mailroom to the CEO’s chair. How are you preparing?
I’ve only played back tape a couple times, so I’ll need to listen to myself more. I know I’ve improved a lot in two years. I used to just stop [pauses] in mid-sentence. My mannerisms have improved, but you’ve got to get more polished. I always try to get better. You need to know when to talk like mad, and when to stop before you say something stupid.
What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said on-air?
A lot of people jump on me for my accents. I did my German accent [at the Buick Invitational] at Torrey Pines in 2005. It was foggy, and Bernhard Langer was playing, and I said [in stern German accent], “Vell, he vill be calculating da density andt da humidity of da moisture in da air.” The Monday after, a Buick guy calls and complains that I’m taking the piss out of Bernhard. And I say, “No, you don’t understand. Bernhard’s my mate. I talk German to his face.” But they say I have to apologize, so I say, “OK, fine.” Then, the next week we’re in L.A. [for the Nissan Open] and Shigeki Maruyama’s in the hunt. So I start going into a Japanese accent, and all of a sudden I hear in my earpiece, “Careful!” And I think, “Maybe I should stop.” It’s crazy. That’s my whole message: If you take what I say seriously, you’ve got it wrong.
What’s your proudest on-air moment?
At the Ryder Cup, they showed a shot of Michael Jordan, who was in Tiger’s entourage. I said, “There’s Michael Jordan. A lot of people who lived in that era say, ‘Did you see Michael Jordan play?'” And then they cut to Tiger, and I said, “And many would say ‘Did you see Tiger play?'” And almost on cue, he carves a bad drive and it goes — donk — into the lake. And I add, “And those people will also say, ‘Did you see Tiger hit a fairway?'” That’s when you need to know where to leave it.
Especially with Tiger, who has a long memory. You criticized his swing at the 2005 Buick Invitational, breaking it down after he blocked a 2-iron. You called it “a complete fan” and said his plane was flat. That got under his skin.
It lasted 18 months, yes. I got the cold shoulder. I would speak to him [for ABC segments] and get very short answers. Then at the  British, my game’s not in great shape, and I see we’re paired together in the first round, and I think, “I’ve been practicing for five minutes and now I’m playing with Tiger. Big help!” I didn’t want that atmosphere out there. So I confronted him the night before on the range. I said, “Do we need to talk about something?” He said yes. He said some things, I said some things, and we got it out. It’s fine now. I can be in his face. I’m back on his Christmas card list.
Johnny Miller has been known to anger players. What attribute does he have that you lack?
Crumbs! [Long pause] To be honest, we’re both different styles. When you sit at home, you can get very critical at commentators. But once you sit there and watch them work, everyone has their qualities, their styles. We’re both candid. You’ve got to be candid if someone hits a lousy shot. You don’t want to get personal, but you’ve got to be factual. If it’s a straightforward shot and they make a meal of it, I will jump down somebody’s throat and rattle his cage.
You dodged that question like a pro. Let’s try it this way: Johnny’s a shot of whiskey. What are you?
Right. I’m a late-afternoon cocktail. A bellini. Yes, a nice peachy bellini that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. But I’ve still got a bit of bite, and if you have too many, it’ll knock you over.
You were all business on the course, but you seem to have a blast in the booth.
We’ve had some great laughs [at ABC]. When [fellow ABC analyst] Paul Azinger and I started, we were just blown away by Mike Tirico. Talk about multitasking. We’ll be in commercial, and he’s on his computer, reading a magazine, messaging his wife and kids on his Blackberry, and we hear “5, 4, 3…” and all of a sudden it’s, “And we’re back!” Your jaw drops. Then there’s the time we went black on-air and had to fake it. We only had audio. No picture. Donk! Gone. A player’s in the bunker. We can hear the shot but can’t see it. He hits it, and I nudge Zinger and say, “That sounded good.” And Zinger says, “Uh, yeah, that sounded really sweet.”
|A translation of Faldo’s favorite phrases|
|“Americans like a British accent in golf commentary,” Faldo says. “And I’m not above playing that up with a little ‘I do say, jolly good show then, chap!'” With that in mind, here’s a sample of the street-smart British slang he slings on-air.|
|Cat’s lick [noun]
A quick, half-hearted wash under the armpits, in lieu of a full bath or shower.
He’ll be back for the trophy presentation after a cat’s lick.
An expression of surprise, similar to “God!” or A”Bloody hell!”, but more polite.
Crumbs! Tiger really crushed that one.
What one must keep when the heat is on; akin to poise under pressure. Great players “have the bottle,” while others “lose their bottle.”
Mickelson had the U.S. Open in his grasp until he lost his bottle on the 72nd hole.
You’ve been married three times, and you often joke about it in the booth. Finish this sentence: “The one thing I don’t understand about women is…”
Oh my! [Laughs] I don’t understand how they can be so irrational. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
What’s your biggest pet peeve about today’s Tour players?
They’re so quiet. We need characters showing more emotion, bottom line. And I understand what that sounds like coming from me. I kept my head down, blinkers on, didn’t say much. But I’ve learned. Every sport is media-driven now, so guys really have to step it up if they want [golf] to compete against other sports. Take Tiger’s lead. He’s intense on the course, and we need more of that fist-pumping intensity.
Speaking of Tiger, let’s say the Faldo of old battles Tiger of today, and you pick the course. Who wins?
[Grins] Valderrama. He hates Valderrama. I’ll beat him there. He couldn’t use driver. To be nice, I’ve got to get him before the 17th hole with the lake, because he might putt it in the water, which would be very embarrassing for him. Yes, let’s say he putts it in the water on 17 to lose 3 and 1. Very embarrassing. [Laughs]
What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen on the course?
I was playing in Rhodesia, before it was Zimbabwe. Some terrorists had been shot trying to cross the border, so we had the army guarding us. You’d hit it in the rough, and all of a sudden three guys would pop up with their goggles and their guns poised, and you’d say, “It’s okay! I’m a golfer. See? I have a little alligator on my shirt. I come in peace.”
Now that you’re almost 50, what do you wish you knew at 25?
I’ve learned that it’s not the first impression you make — it’s the last one. Whether it’s the checkout girl or the president, you have to ask how you want people to remember you when you walk away. Well, I want to leave them with a smile, so they say, “I don’t know who he was, but he smiled and asked me how I’m doing.” I wasn’t good at that before, but I’ve learned to be more communicative — to show more empathy toward people. The other thing I’ve learned is simple: Find at least one thing to enjoy every day. It’s not always easy. Sometimes you sit on plane, and it’s delayed, and you say, “How the hell do you find something to enjoy here?” And suddenly you see the sunrise from 35,000 feet and you go, “Okay. That’s it. That was fantastic!”
And that’s all it takes?
Sometimes it’s the silliest little thing. I was in China last week in my hotel. I was tired. Long day. Long flight. This girl who works there comes up to me, and she’s Chinese, and her name is pronounced something like Lulongwingwong-tongchong. And she says [in thick cockney], “Wouldya loika cuppa tay?” [Laughs] There’s your fun bit of the day! You’ve flown across the world, and that’s all it takes to make it a good day. I said, “Whatever you do, girl, don’t lose that accent!” You have to grasp onto daft things like that. That’s what I teach my kids — I want to give them little gems of wisdom like that.
What about them — what’s the wisest thing one of your kids has said to you?
Matthew was sitting on my knee when he was about 6, and he was going through my wallet. He takes out my credit cards, and he looks at me and says, “When you’re dead, will I get these?” And I thought, “That’s beautiful.” Wait! This is the wisest: My kids are at the airport with me, and they have to sit in the back of the plane. And the lady says, “Well, for an extra $250, would you like to upgrade?” The kids look at me with their eyes all big, and I say, “Aw, come on. I just bought you this and that.” And little George says, “Remember, Dad. We’re the ones who choose whose home you go to.” [Laughs] Isn’t that great? And I said, “Okay, then — two upgrades, please.”
While David Feherty remains golf’s undisputed king of one-liners, his new CBS colleague is no slouch. Here are some of Faldo’s greatest
“Yes, but it’s not as expensive.”
— After ESPN’s Karl Ravitch asked the thrice-married Faldo at last year’s Tour Championship if the player-caddie dynamic resembles a husband-wife relationship.
“It’s very embarrassing for them to bring their sexual problems onto the course. Poor fellow.”
— After Rory Sabbatini’s wife Amy wore a T-shirt bearing the words “KEEP UP!” during Sabbatini’s pairing with the famously slow-playing Faldo, at the 2005 Players Championship.
“What a magnificent pair of fetlocks! I’m shocked a man of his status… only has one dress. It was the same dress he was wearing last night at Palms-a-GoGo, for the over-40s.”
— After the camera caught a close-up of dress-wearing Fred Funk’s toned calf muscles at the 2005 Skins Game.
“Well, it’s 100 yards longer and 30 yards narrower. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.”
— When asked in 2006 to critique Augusta National’s revamped 11th hole.
“Captain Tom Lehman won’t know which direction to drive his buggy now. Toward the river?”
— When the camera showed Lehman on a trying Saturday at last year’s Ryder Cup.
“Me, I had a brand-new wife every time I took four weeks off.”
— On air in 2005, while debating the merits of skipping too many Tour events.
“When I’m out walking in the woods all alone, I’m still wrong.”
— On women.