Editor’s Note: The Open Championship is happening right now. Which made us think: “Hey, remember that interview we did with three-time Open Championship winner Nick Faldo? We should resurface it.” So here it is, in all its links-course glory. Enjoy!
What do you do when things start slipping away? How do you right the ship? And what can you tell yourself to make sure a few mistakes don’t turn into a complete collapse that makes you look like a choker in front of the entire sports-watching world? These are the questions Sir Nick Faldo was wrestling with on July 19, 1992 at Muirfield Golf Links in Gullane, Scotland.
Barreling toward his third Open Championship title, Faldo began the final day of the tournament with a four-stroke lead. But bogeys on 11, 13 and 14, coupled with a late surge by American John Cook, suddenly left him two strokes back with four holes to play. It looked like Faldo was destined for an epic meltdown. That’s when the Englishman birdied two of the last four holes to reclaim the lead and bag his third Claret Jug and fifth major. It was a turn of events that left the normally stoic figure visibly emotional, both immediately after sinking the winning putt and during his rather entertaining post-tourney speech.
As the Open Championship heats up at Royal Troon, we recall a chat with the retired legend about his big moment at Muirfield…
“I did a good job on myself. I said, ‘Just forget everything. Everything that’s happened this week. You start fresh. You’ve just got four holes. Play the four best holes of your life.’ And, you know, I just about did.”
The finish to the 1992 Open Championship was pretty wild. What do you remember about that final back nine?
Well, I remember slowly messing up. Even though I felt good. It’s funny, I kept making mistakes and going back to Fanny, my caddy, and saying: “I feel alright. I don’t know what’s going on.” I hit a three-putt on 13, I think, and I blocked my one-iron into the bunker at 14, and I’m saying, “I feel all right.” And then I managed to pull things together. And of course, then I looked at the leaderboard and I was within two back at that stage. And I did a good job on myself. I said, “Just forget everything. Everything that’s happened this week. You start fresh. You’ve just got four holes. Play the four best holes of your life.”
And, you know, I just about did. I hit a five-iron at 15 to three feet. And then 16 was a bit up and down, 17 I put it 20 feet left, which is as good as you can do with that flag. And then it came to the last hole. I hit a three-iron into that green, and then just snuck in, just squeaked past him. So that was quite an emotional day. Because I had a four-shot lead at the start of the day, and if I’d blown that, that would have been… probably my first real scar. You know, I’ve won majors and lost majors, but I’ve managed to avoid scarring myself with the losses, so that was very fortunate. I’m very thankful for that.
Was the last shot a tough one for you? You knew that it was for the win, right?
Yeah, I knew that John Cook had just taken five, so I knew I needed four to win the Open. And I walked off that 17th green, and every single step I actually said to myself, “Four to win, four to win, four to win.” And then I got a three-iron into that green, and you can see my chest was heaving. I got to that ball and I stood over it and I thought, “Just get it away smoothly. Just get it moving.” That’s all I had to do. Get the club head moving and the rest of it kind of took over. And, you know, I nailed it, which is pretty cool.
That must’ve felt amazing.
Well, yeah, I mean, you’re so engrossed in the whole thing, the procedure of doing it. I guess one of my abilities is to get completely engrossed in what I’m doing. And be able to do it. So that was the cool bit. It’s a weird enjoyment to it, isn’t it? You put yourself under serious pressure, and then you say, can you pull the trigger? And it was nice to know I could still pull the trigger.
The champ today with his three Claret Jugs… and one dashing sweater.
Did the cocky part of you actually find it fun to put yourself in that kind of a hole and see if you could get out of it?
No, there’s no such thing as cocky in that circumstance. You are just breathing. You know what you’ve got to do, and you’re just trying to… talk to yourself to believe that, you know, all those millions of golf balls you’ve hit will let you put one more swing on automatic even with all that pressure on the line. You know, one great shot’s going to win it, and one bad shot’s going to cost you it, so that’s the knife edge of it.
Is that your greatest moment on a golf course?
It’s one of my greatest, yeah. I think to claw back on those last four holes, those were some of my greatest shots. I hit all my favorite clubs, six, five, four, three, you know, pretty darn good.
Is Muirfield your favorite golf course? You won two Claret Jugs there.
Well, it is, probably. It’s funny, recently someone asked me what my favorite course was. So I went ranting on about, “Well, you want the pines of Augusta, you want the coastline of Pebble Beach, you want the atmosphere of Saint Andrews” and da da da da da. And then the guy said, “Well, what about memorability?” So I said, “Well, the 18th green at Muirfield, I’ve won two Opens there.” And then it really kind of hit me. I thought, “Wow, maybe that’s my spot.” That 18th hole, to come up there, hit two fours and win an Open, that made me realize how important Muirfield is to me.
Finally, is it OK if we call it the British Open, or is that disrespectful?
No, it’s called the Open Championship. It is the Open Championship, technically.
So that’s what we should call it?
Even though it’s clearer, in the United States, to call it the British Open?
It’s the Open Championship, dear boy.