My First Open
Nick Faldo
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Royal Troon 1973

Nick Faldo becomes Champion Golfer of the Year

For three-time Champion Golfer Nick Faldo, it all started at Royal Troon.

Indeed, he was just 15 when he enjoyed his inaugural experience of the Championship, travelling to Scotland in his parents’ VW Beetle to get an early taste of the competition he would go on to adore so fondly in later years.

And the joys of watching the inspirational Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player from such close proximity proved a watershed moment, instilling a young Faldo with an infectious passion for golf – and the Championship – that still remains palpable today.

“I sat on the practise ground and I just watched everybody,” he recalled nostalgically.

“I then brought that back to little old Welwyn Garden and I would go out and play and I’d mimic everybody, and that was unbelievably powerful.

“Little did I know, because I’m learning to visualise and be somebody else, so that was it – I played like that all day.”

Faldo’s evocative journey had started, a story that ebbs and flows like the fluency of a major itself and one that eventually culminated in a famous trio of Claret Jugs secured at Muirfield in 1987, St Andrews in 1990 and Muirfield again in 1992.

For Faldo is Britain’s most decorated modern golfer, winning six majors between 1987 and 1996 in a career where he indelibly carved his name into Open folklore and established a reputation as one of the game’s most composed, determined characters.

But Faldo’s Open journey began long before his maiden triumph, with a debut at Royal Birkdale in 1976 as a precocious 18-year-old.

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His presence represented a triumph for hard work and indefatigability; the result of hours of practice on his own that was stimulated by that VW Beetle-facilitated visit to Royal Troon in 1973.

Tom Weiskopf became Champion Golfer of the Year, a player whose miraculous exploits in shooting a superior four rounds to the likes of Nicklaus, Player, Palmer and Lee Trevino was enough to inspire a young Faldo.

At the age of 15 – older than many players are when they start to take up the game – Faldo had caught the golf bug.

“I made my own sandwiches every morning (before I practiced),” he added.

“I had brown bread, grated cheddar cheese and I either had Branston Pickle one day or I had salad cream another day.

“How I did that for two years I’ll never know because I lived on cheese sandwiches.

“95 times out of 100 I’d be playing on my own I guess, and the minimum I’d play was 27 holes, and quite often I’d keep going ‘till dark.

“That was just a normal day, and guess what? We did the same next day and the same the next.”

Faldo’s journey to Royal Birkdale was well underway, a three-year transformation from that 15-year-old frantically following the ball around at Royal Troon to a player capable of competing with the world’s best at its premier competition.

And while Faldo’s first two Opens were far from successful – he tied for 28th and 62nd in 1976 and 1977 – 1978 marked his breakthrough, tying for seventh and finishing just four shots off the lead at the age of 21.

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“That was huge for me,” he recalled.

“I left St Andrew’s and said to myself ‘I can win The Open one day.’

“Then we go on a few more years to 1983 at Royal Birkdale – I was playing really well that year, and I was like the hot kid and I was playing great.

“I got myself in the mix, but that Sunday was a big learning curve for me – by the time I got to the tenth tee and I was leading, the bottom line was that I just couldn’t handle it.”

A learning curve indeed: Faldo swiftly went about rebuilding his swing, a drastic change but nevertheless one that would prove fundamental in his later development.

And it paid off, as those memorable victories in 1987, 1990 and 1992 soon followed and he waltzed his way into the hearts of the British public.

But for all those magic moments and triumphs, he will always reflect fondly on not only his first Open as a player, but also his first Open that kick-started his journey – Royal Troon in 1973.