When TaylorMade decided to create the prototypes that would eventually become the Forged Tour Preferred MB, MC and CB irons, three-time British Open champion Nick Faldo was consulted early in the process.
“It wasn’t like we were beginners at making irons,” says TaylorMade vice president of product creation Sean Toulon. “But I think what Nick brings to the table is, first, a passion and a love for equipment. Second, he’s got an eye for the minutest little details. He gave us ideas and things to look for that we really hadn’t seen before.”
At his peak, that attention to detail drove Faldo to trim his nails on Mondays so he’d have perfect feel in his hands on Sundays. It pushed him to trek over two hours to meet with a club builder at Royal St. George’s, site of this year’s British Open, to get his driver re-shafted. It also helped the man Queen Elizabeth II knighted in 2009 become the No. 1 player in the world and a six-time major winner.
We sat down with Sir Nick to talk about how equipment has changed since his prime and what amateurs should do before buying clubs.
Have you always enjoyed experimenting with your gear?
When I was a kid I just loved tinkering. I used to love cleaning my clubs. I had my own little workshop and got into things like filing them down, working with emery cloths and fiddling around with bounce on wedges. I used to hand-grind my wedges by putting a really coarse piece of emery cloth on the ground and hitting it to see where it scratched.
I wanted to learn things like when you leaned into it, what difference would it make and what different angles did on this sand wedge? So I learned where the sand wedge actually hits the sand, and how to create different shots.
I lived in a little terrace house when I started to play golf and I remember going to the front of the house, in the garden, putting a ball down on the concrete and thinking, ‘All right, I’m going to use this sand wedge to hit a ball over my house and land it in my back garden.’ Just to see if I could make it work and if I could handle a tight lie. That was a little bit of a scary moment. Gosh, that was moons ago, but I’ll never forget it.
And your tinkering only got more intense as you got older?
America was so far ahead of Europe at that time it was amazing. Jack Nicklaus used to come and play in the Opens, and I would look in his bag and see all these beautiful matched clubs. There was no lead tape on the back of the clubs. They had flex-tested shafts and then frequency-matched shafts — we never even had matched shafts in Europe at that time. You had to hit them, and if you liked it you kept that shaft.
A lot of my shafts actually stayed in my clubs for a hell of a long time. I reckon I won all my majors with the same shafts. I just attached them to different heads. I could feel the difference. I did so much from feel and visual feedback. But now, in the scientific age, they know what the feedback is. You can start to replicate clubs.
Do players today have the same intense knowledge about their equipment that players of your generation had?
I think a lot of guys on Tour don’t even know how to put a grip on. To some extent, that’s a good thing and a bad thing. Even with all the science, I’d still put my own grips on. I wouldn’t depend on somebody else to do that because there is something about the way that I would stretch them and twist them.
I used to put my glove on and then grip the club, squeeze it, and go into impact position and twist it so I could feel like, “Okay, that’s impact, that’s the face.” That’s why you never wanted to change grips in our era. My God, you tried to get a set of grips to last you a season. And the worst thing was having to change a grip mid-season because you’d have this beautifully matched set of grips and suddenly you’d have one brand new one. Ahhh!
Does tinkering around like that make you a better player?
I would think so. I think that for your own self-belief, you would want to look after your own equipment. Eventually all my shafts were flex-tested and frequency matched and I did all the grips. My clubs were balanced because of that. Everything about them was the same.
I don’t know if that gave me an advantage over the competition, but in the early days you might get an ugly club sent to you and you can’t play with an ugly club. Eight-irons were very tough to get looking pretty in that era.
What was the toughest club for you to find?
It was the drivers and the longer stuff mostly, but the sand wedges were hard too because we used ones with curved or concave edges. You just didn’t want to change them because the bounce was just perfect, the grip was just perfect, the shaft was tuned. I think I had a smart idea when I started having “practice wedges” instead of using “tournament wedges.”
The driver of course was important and re-shafting mine was a real trick because of where I lived. I went down to St. George’s to see Barry Willet because he was the guy who could do it and in that era it was a two-and-a-half hour drive.
I used to sit in the corner of his workshop, which was tiny. It was a shed with clubs and stuff everywhere. I would sit and gab, watching him work and fiddle away with all these clubs. He’d take the shaft out, put the pin in, add the glue and then wait 24 hours for the glue to set. So we’d risk it by hitting it a bit early.
That was terrible because you had to learn to adapt to the characteristics of that club. You could have a driver that had a shaft that was maybe doing this, and a 3-wood that had a shaft that was doing that, and you had to know this! They all had a character to themselves.
But today that process takes just a few minutes.
That was the best invention, the two-minute glue, because you could go in and heat up and try new clubs. Now we’ve got it down to 10 seconds. Adjustable drivers let you go click, click, click and there you go.
I still have great fun doing that, sneaking on the golf course with two drivers and setting up the weights differently. Does it really work? I set up the faces differently, start messing around with the weights and it’s like, “Wow, these weights really do work! You can make a ball fade or draw with basically the same swing.”
With all of that in mind, how you recommend mid- and high-handicap golfers go about finding the right clubs?
I once made a foolish statement that about 90 percent of the golfers out there play with clubs that don’t match their swing. I’d like to change that to about 98 percent.
A lot of people say that they can’t feel the difference from one club to another, but I’ve proven that to be wrong.
I tell people that you’ve got to go out and try it. Folks tell me all the time, “I can’t because I don’t know that much about golf.” It doesn’t matter — you can pick two clubs, swing them, and feel the difference. You go, “I like that, but I don’t like that.” That’s simply what you do. I think that is an absolute must.