With six Grand Slam titles, they are seventh in the rankings of major championship winners.
Like Ben Hogan before him, Sir Nick Faldo sought perfection with such single-mindedness that winning – much like the follow-through of his flawless swing – was a by-product of a larger goal. More than any player of his era, the Englishman relentlessly pursued golf’s holy grail: total control of the golf ball. The swing he built in that endless chase was one that not only held up but also excelled in the game’s most important moments.
Between 1987 and 1995, Faldo won six major championships: three British Opens and three US Masters. Although he accumulated a total of 39 tournament victories around the world, including six events on the PGA Tour, Faldo’s focus had always been on his performance in the Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship. In one stretch between 1988 and 1993, he was never out of the top 20 in a Grand Slam event.
Faldo had relied on dedication, consistency, tempo and one of the strongest competitive minds the game has ever seen. Although he is tall at just over i.9 metres and athletically built with wide shoulders, Faldo had never been a particularly powerful player. Consistency, distance control and course management were his strengths. His record makes him arguably the finest player of his height or taller in the history of the game.
Four of his majors were won narrowly in tense battles, either by a single stroke or in a play-off, and often after he had come from behind. At the 1987 British Open, Faldo made 18 pars in the final round and emerged victorious when Paul Azinger bogeyed the final two holes. At the 1989 Masters, he won in sudden death when Scott Hoch missed a 50-centimetre putt. The next year Raymond Floyd mis-hit his approach on the second extra hole to give Faldo victory. In 1992 at Muirfield, Faldo lost a five-stroke lead on Sunday, but rallied with late birdies to win his third British Open by one.
At the 1996 Masters, Faldo started the final day six strokes behind Greg Norman, but put together a flawless 67 to win going away. Faldo’s most impressive major victory was the 1990 British Open at St. Andrews. Mastering the Old Course with dazzling iron play, Faldo stood astride the field, shooting 18-under-par 270 to win by five.
Born on 18 July 1957 in Welwyn Garden City, Faldo was a gifted all-round athlete who had the makings of a first-class cyclist. After his parents bought him a racing cycle when he was 12, the young Faldo horrified them by dismantling the whole machine because he wanted to know how it worked. Years later, he did the same thing with his golf swing.
At 14, Faldo took up golf after watching the 1971 Masters on television. An early teacher, Ian Connelly, told him, “The easier you swing, the better you’ll hit it”, advice which helped shape Faldo’s syrupy action.
Faldo won 10 titles in 1975 as an amateur and joined the European Tour the following season. Over the next eight years, he displayed a superb short game and putting stroke in winning several tournaments and establishing his career-long brilliance in the Ryder Cup.
But Faldo seemed to fail in the crucible of the major championships, and this did not sit well with his perfectionist nature. At the 1983 British Open at Birkdale, another final-round collapse convinced Faldo that if he was ever going to win majors he needed to overhaul his swing.
Enlisting swing coach David Leadbetter in 1984, Faldo implored the instructor to, “Throw the book at me.” For the next three years, he toiled through poor performances as he went through the rigours of a risky mid-career swing change. But the swing that emerged – which emphasised the large muscles of the body – in conformance with Leadbetter’s overriding tenet that “the dog wags the tail” – was more solid, more repeatable and more reliable. Faldo’s victory at Muirfield in 1987 was the validation, and the five majors that followed were the proof.
On 13 June 2009, after six major championships, 39 tournament victories around the world and 11 consecutive Ryder Cups, Faldo was given knighthood.
It is a tribute of a person’s fortitude that she is at her best when life seems at its worst. That, then, says it all about Patty Sheehan, who twice answered adversity with achievement, and who has proven that heart and courage mean as much in golf as talent. When you grow up as a downhill skier, you learn how to pick yourself up, and that’s what Sheehan did.
In 1989, Sheehan lost her house, her trophies and nearly all of her life savings in the San Francisco earthquake. She came back the next year to win five tournaments and more than $732,000. Nearly all of that money went to pay bills, but it was the tournament she lost in 1990 that represented as much potential devastation to her career as the earthquake did to her financial security.
The U.S. Women’s Open was played at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Sheehan had an 11-stroke lead in the third round and ended up losing it all to Betsy King. As Sheehan later said, “I had owned the Open. It was in my hands. I could break a leg and still shoot well enough to win, but I hadn’t been able to do it.”
Two years later, Sheehan came to Oakmont C.C. after two consecutive victories. She birdied the 71st and 72nd holes, then went on to defeat Juli Inkster in a play-off. She won the Open again in 1994, but the victory in 1992 at Oakmont was her crowning achievement.
“It was such a great comeback from 1990, and emotionally it healed so many wounds,” Sheehan told writer Liz Kahn. “It was the most significant win of my career because I overcame so much doubt. It would have been very hard to live the rest of my life without winning an Open. Now I feel I’m on vacation from adversity and that 1992 Open victory made me a different person – much happier and more content. If I never win another tournament, I’m still complete because that was the one I wanted.”
Sheehan grew up in Middlebury (Vermont) and Lake Tahoe (Nevada). Her father, Bobo, was a college ski coach in Vermont and also an Olympic ski coach. As the only girl in the family, Sheehan learned how to compete to survive. She was as good a football player as her three brothers, and at 13 Sheehan was ranked the number one downhill skier for her age in the country. Golf was a secondary sport until Sheehan reached 18 years, when her handicap was down to scratch and the University of Nevada-Reno offered her a scholarship.
As an amateur, Sheehan won state titles in Nevada and California, and the AIAW National Championship for San Jose State, and was runner-up in the 1979 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. She was undefeated on the 1980 Curtis Cup team and earned Rookie of the Year honours on the LPGA Tour in 1981.
“I was always very competitive,” Sheehan said. “I saw myself as a winner from a very young age. I played with boys all my life, and I seemed to be their equal, if not better. I never thought of myself as anything less than a winner. To be successful, you need drive, determination and a belief in yourself, and some kind of peacefulness about what you’re doing.”
That attitude resulted in one of the most successful careers in LPGA history. Through the 2003 season, she had won 35 tournaments, including the two US Opens, three LPGA Championships and a Nabisco Dinah Shore title. In 1995, she qualified for the Hall of Fame with a win at the SAFECO Classic. “I feel inside I should be there because I stepped up and achieved that level and there’s a place for me beside those greats,” Sheehan said. “I’m not bragging. I just feel that way.”